Heat's LeBron James delivers signature Finals moment with title-sealing jumper
MIAMI -- This was the moment many have been waiting on for a decade.
The closing minute of Miami's Game 7 victory over San Antonio on Thursday saw LeBron James deliver the signature moment of his 10-year career, making a championship-sealing jumper to secure his second ring.
Miami led 90-88 when James pulled up just inside the three-point arc and nailed a jump shot over Kawhi Leonard with 27.9 seconds remaining. The Heat would go on to win 95-88, securing their third title and second in a row.
"To be able to come through for my teammates in the biggest moment on the biggest stage makes me more satisfied than anything in the world," James said.
The shot immediately vaults to the front of the line when it comes to James' career highlights. His 2007 Finals with Cleveland ended in a forgettable sweep at the hands of the Spurs; talk of "shrinking" dominated his 2011 Finals loss with Miami against Dallas; and his all-around brilliance in last year's Finals gave way to Mike Miller's emergence as the hero in the Heat's series clincher against Oklahoma City.
Here, James did it all, on the biggest stage, against an incredible opponent, in a Game 7, and in the clutch. Nothing tops that. So many of his best games have been thorough, start-to-finish affairs lacking in that one indelible play that stands out from a level of excellence that has become routine. Here, he found his Bryon Russell push-off moment.
"As the series went on, he realized that shot was probably going to be open," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "In the biggest game, the biggest moment, those are the shots he hit. Those were the difference tonight. ... He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most, when the competition is the fiercest."
James finished with a game-high 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in 45 minutes, shooting 12-for-23 from the field. He hit five three-pointers, much to his delight. The 2013 MVP described afterward how he spent last summer improving his jumper and how that extra work paid off with a career-high 40.6 three-point percentage this year. During the Finals, though, the Spurs regularly backed off James, allowing him to shoot. Finally, in Game 7, he made that strategy untenable.
"I just told myself, Don't abandon what you've done all year," James said. "Don't abandon now because [the Spurs] are going under [screens in defending the pick-and-roll, leaving James space on the perimeter]. Don't force the paint. If it's there, take it. If not, take the jumper. ... Everything you've worked on, the repetition, the practices, the offseason training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what's on the line, just go with it. I was able to do that."
Spoelstra added: "You're always happy for guys when they're so dedicated,. We all know his work ethic. It's probably unique for a guy who has been the best in the game since he was in seventh grade. Usually you wouldn't have the type of work ethic that would match that type of talent."
Asked if a consistent perimeter game makes him unstoppable, James laughed.