LeBron James, at the highest level, with the world watching, on the brightest stage, reached the pinnacle of basketball. In one of the great individual performances in NBA Finals history, James answered even his biggest detractors with equal parts clutch and dominance. His Game 5 triple-double summed up his immense impact throughout the series. Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks tried Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant and James Harden. When that didn't work, he went with the double-team, which of course, didn't work, either.
Perhaps no other team in professional sports has been more polarizing over the past two seasons than the Miami Heat -- and no other player more so than James. The planet's best player though, now has his first world championship. And he has it at 27 years old, one year younger than the incomparable Michael Jordan was when he captured his first ring with the Bulls in 1991.
James got a tremendous lift in from a Miami roster that has been chastised for being inept aside from the Big Three. Mike Miller, who can barely make his way up the floor, drilled seven of eight 3-pointers (his first seven of the Finals) and scored 23 points in the 121-106 win. Dwyane Wade had 20 points, while Chris Bosh provided tough minutes with 24 points and 8 rebounds. More importantly, the Heat played four games of suffocating defense, limiting the league's third-highest scoring team to 92 points per game for the series -- 11 points less than its regular season average.
But let us return to James, the Finals MVP, because everything always comes back to LeBron.
As great as he was heading into this season, the major hole in his game -- aside from a ring and a general perception of lacking clutchness -- was his willingness to settle on jump shots. Nobody, maybe not even Michael Jordan, gets to the rim with the ease of James. Like Kobe Bryant did several years back, James spent part of his off-season working with Hakeem Olajuwon. He wanted to become even more unstoppable and understand how to use his size.
Despite playing in 22 fewer regular-season games this year, James worked from the post almost 120 more times in 2012 than in 2011, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
"He knew that we would need a bigger post presence from him, and he's been able to provide that," Heats coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday.
With 6:32 left in the game, James worked out of block and promptly found Bosh diving through the paint for a crucial bucket that pushed the Heat lead back up to 12. Then, with just over three minutes left in the third, he found Bosh once again, this time for a triple. And, once more, for a Bosh dunk, as he worked from the mid-post.
For the Heat, which tied a single game Finals record with 14 3-pointers, becoming the first NBA team ever to win a title after trailing in three different postseason series, it is only fitting to consider what James and this franchise have endured over the past two years.
Congratulations LeBron: you've certainly earned this.
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