Photo by Surya Fernandez, Hot Hot Hoops
What a night.
Historic. Epic. However you want to describe it, the Miami Heat won their second championship in their 24-year history by winning four straight times against the Oklahoma City Thunder after dropping the first game of the series on the road. It was just the third time in Finals history (and the second time for this franchise) a team swept their home games since the 2-3-2 format was adopted in 1985 and they did it playing their most impressive game of the season. Never mind that the Thunder had not lost four games in a row the entire season and were the favorites to win it all entering this series. The better team won and no one can ever dispute that.
All the doubts about this team, all the criticism over the past two years directed at the Miami Heat and at the MVP and now NBA Finals MVP LeBron James are finally history. They absorbed and learned from the way their first season together ended and took those lessons to heart. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra summed it best after the Game 5 victory.
"We have a brotherhood now that you don't necessarily have unless you've been through the fire together. Two years of it made us all more closer, and it makes this moment that much more gratifying."
The resiliency of this team can never be questioned. They're the first champions to have come back from trailing in three different Playoff series during their run to glory, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Nowhere was this resiliency personified more than Mike Miller, scoring a career playoff high 23 points on 7-8 from beyond the arc. A reporter later asked him, "You limped into the game, literally, when you checked in in the first quarter. How did you do that?"
"How did I limp?" asked Miller.
All jokes aside, he described his journey to a championship as a "roller coaster".
"It's been up and down, but it's worth every minute of it," he said. "This is one thing about our team, through everything we kept grinding, we stayed the course and believed in each other."
This time the team wasn't just about the Big 3, though they each played masterfully to their strengths. This series was also about "the other guys": Shane Battier's defense and deadly accuracy beyond the arc, Mario Chalmers' confidence, and young Norris Cole playing quality minutes in a limited but critical role.
But through it all, LeBron James grew as a player and as a man before our eyes and intense scrutiny this season. Somehow, he was able to improve as a player but perhaps more importantly, his outlook on the game improved.
"The best thing that happen to me last year was us losing the Finals and me playing the way I played it," he explained. "It was the best thing to happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me. I knew what it was going to have to take and I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted.
"And it happened just one year later."