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Miami Heat win NBA Championship

Miami Heat win NBA Championship

Not one, not two… A little more than two years ago, LeBron James stood on that stage here, the smoke swirling about him, and made one of the most audacious declarations the NBA had ever heard. He had just joined with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the most star-powered triumvirate in the league, and now he was promising the Miami Heat fistfuls of titles.

Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…

James crowed, and he was mocked fast and hard for the boast, for the spectacle of a welcome party the Heat had thrown for him, for his narcissistic I'm-taking-my-talents-to-South-Beach cable TV special. He hadn't won anything yet, of course. He just acted like he had, arriving here full of pompousness and entitlement, well on his way to becoming one of the sporting world's great villains.

Somewhere in all that braggadocio, James' point was clear. He hadn't left his home state of Ohio to come to Miami to win a championship. He was here to build a dynasty, to construct his own legacy as one of the greatest to ever play.

There's no doubting his championship mettle now. Not after Thursday night. Not after an epic NBA Finals Game 7 performance that included 37 points, five 3-pointers and the decisive jump shot that finally helped finish off a 95-88 victory, that finally finished off the San Antonio Spurs. James has his second championship in as many years, and he won this ring in one in one of the tensest Finals ever.

Shane Battier made six 3-pointers, the most ever in a Finals Game 7, and Wade scored 23 points, but this victory – this championship – was won on James' dominance.

James had been swept by this same trio of Spurs' stars – Tim DuncanTony Parker and Manu Ginobili – during his first trip to the Finals in 2007. He was with the Cleveland Cavaliers then, and on the eve of these Finals, he said there was no comparison to the present. He proclaimed himself a much better player than he was in '07 – or even '11 when his passive performance in the Finals allowed the Dallas Mavericks to beat the Heat.

He's set out to prove himself ever since, and he's right: He is a much improved player, more immune to the pressure of the moment. Among the other areas in which James is better: He can shoot.

The Spurs had dared James to shoot over them for the duration of the series, crowding the lane with another defender when he tried to drive, backing off him when he was isolated. By the second quarter of Game 7, he'd never looked more sure. The Spurs kept backing off him and he kept firing, making five 3-pointers and that critical jumper in the closing seconds.

Wade has played understudy to James for parts of this season, but not in Game 7. There's no bigger stage in the sport, and Wade cleared himself some room to share it with James. He had limped out of Game 6 after injuring his left knee only to return with more life – and lift – in his legs than anyone else. He scored 14 points in the first half, content to bury the midrange jump shots the Spurs conceded him, helping buy James some time to find his own shot.

After six games, the Spurs and Heat had played themselves to exhaustion. Miami's thrilling overtime victory in Game 6 had drained both teams, and the enormity of Game 7 seemed to leave everyone's nerves in a jumble. The play was ragged, and neither team could find much rhythm until Battier made three 3-pointers in a short stretch bridging the first two quarters.

The Spurs, as they have for so many of these past 16 years, continued to hang around, hang around, hang around. The Heat outplayed them for stretches of the first half, yet the Spurs walked into the locker room down just two points.

There had been little separation between the teams from game to game, and when Game 7 arrived, there was little distance between them from minute to minute. When Mario Chalmers banked in a pull-up 30-foot 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer, it gave Miami a 72-71 advantage.

The Heat would eventually push their lead to six, but the Spurs didn't crumble. After Battier made his sixth 3-pointer to send the home crowd into a roar, Duncan quickly quieted the arena by answering with a three-point play. Kawhi Leonard's 3-pointer brought the Spurs within two and Chalmers followed by missing a pair of free throws.

Leonard had a chance to put the Spurs ahead, but missed a 3-pointer. Wade missed a jump shot,James grabbed the rebound and Battier followed with a missed 3-pointer. That gave the Spurs another chance to tie. Duncan curled into the lane, missed his hook shot and his follow tip attempt also came up just short. As the Heat called timeout with 39 seconds left, Duncan leaned over and slapped the court in frustration.

The Heat came out of the timeout and James coolly buried the 17-foot jump shot to stretch Miami's lead to four. With 27.9 seconds left, it was all the Heat needed for their second championship.

Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…

Yes, eight titles is a stretch, but who knows? At 28 years old, James still has so much within his reach.

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