LeBron earns validation, place in history with first championship
But he has long been the NBA's most polished player, and in this series, he corrected the only blemish on his record by dominating the only playoff round he had yet to command. He grew into some unholy combination of point forward and power forward, grabbing rebounds, dishing assists all over the floor, guarding every position and contributing Hall of Fame-level production even when his jumper wouldn't fall. He scored at least 30 points in 13 of Miami's 23 playoff games, including in 10 of 12 games beginning in Game 4 of the conference semifinals against Indiana -- the team's first playoff pressure point. He finished the playoffs with a stat line -- 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game -- nearly unrivaled in the modern NBA.
The noise can cease now. The 2011 Finals don't vanish, just as the 1984 Finals never disappeared from Magic Johnson's record. But James can now take his place without argument among the very greatest players of all time.
The Thunder showed a hard trap on James, but they didn't commit to making it hard enough or early enough, and the rotations behind it were lacking. James and Dwyane Wade (20 points) also scored easy baskets at the rim via off-ball cuts, something each has had to do more of on this star-heavy roster. And when those initial traps forced Miami to shift the offense away from James' post game, the Heat went back to their old bread-and-butter: high pick-and-rolls, cross-screens under the rim and plays in which one player comes jetting off a series of picks in the corner.
Miami also brought the same swarming defense that has been taking opponents away from preferred options for two seasons. The old and the new -- the classic and the improved -- brought the Heat their championship.