By Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI - LeBron James delivered again.
The Miami Heat are your NBA champions for a second season in a row, beating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. James had another huge game, topping 30 points for the third time in four as the Heat clawed back from a 3-2 victory with consecutive tense home victories.
The result: The Heat still don't have the eight championships they jokingly promised back in 2010, but they're a quarter of the way there.
Shane Battier stepped up for his biggest game of the postseason, and Dwyane Wade was outstanding in winning his third ring.
This all came at the expense of the Spurs, who had come so close to winning it all with a five-point lead and less than 30 seconds left in Game 6. Tim Duncan had his sixth double-double of the Finals, but it wasn't enough thanks to cold shooting from the perimeter.
The season started off fine enough for the Heat. It wasn't exactly a championship hangover, but the Heat meandered through the first three months of the season with a decent 29-14 record.
Spoelstra was not happy with the team's road record - just 11-11 three months into season.
The January signing of forward Chris Andersen began to yield results as the season moved to February, and the Heat rattled off 27 consecutive victories, the second longest winning streak in NBA history.
Miami punctuated the streak with excellent victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers and improbable comebacks against the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
During the streak, Miami scored 113.1 points per 100 possessions and allowed 99 points per 100 possessions. The Heat were an offensive and defensive power, and when they stopped teams fro scoring, they were difficult to stop in transition.
The streak ended with a loss at Chicago on March 27. Miami still finished the season strong wins against the Spurs and Bulls and earned the No. 1 overall season and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with a 66-16 record. They also finished with the league's best road record, a source of pride for Spoelstra after the 11-11 road start.
The Big 3 put together outstanding seasons - James, Wade and Bosh all shot career-highs from the field. Wade was one of four players this season to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists and was named to the All-NBA third team.
Of course, James was also one of the four: 26.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.3 assists - just one of four players in NBA history to average at least those totals. Combined with his defense, James earned league MVP for the second consecutive season.
But it was just wasn't James, Wade and Bosh producing. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole were more than capable point guards, Ray Allen provided Hall of Fame shooting off the bench, and Shane Battier gave the Heat solid defense and three-point shooting. Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Andersen were part of a deep rotation.
The Heat rolled over the Milwaukee Bucks in four games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and even though their conference semifinals series against the Bulls was competitive at times, the Heat won in five games.
But Wade's bruised right knee began to take a toll on his production in the postseason, and throughout, he has had to muster up what he could - sometimes it was a lot, sometimes it wasn't - to help.
Fissures in the Heat's structure began to appear against the beat-up Bulls, and the Indiana Pacers had big and healthy players to give the Heat trouble.
While the Heat hadn't loss back-to-back games since early January, they were not able to put together consecutive wins against the Pacers and needed seven games to advance to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season.
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