D-Wade's Heat Dynasty & LeBron's Miami Empire
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It was the best of both worlds in Miami Thursday night, when 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade rose to the level of 2013 and 2012 Finals MVP LeBron James, as both superstars pushed, shoved and pulled the Miami Heat franchise over the top of the steepest of mountains to win a momentous NBA Finals Game 7 over the San Antonio Spurs, 95-88, to win the 2013 NBA Championship.
And when D-Wade and LeBron stood atop it all, surveying the land they had conquered, they saw 29 teams vanquished. One team left standing. For two years in a row.
With this 2013 NBA Championship--the Heat's third in eight seasons and Miami's second the past two years--this undisputed No. 1 NBA organization now qualifies as both dynasty and empire in the truest sense of the words.
As explained a couple weeks ago, you cannot have a dynasty without a succession of rulers, and that is what Miami truly has, dating back to its 2006 NBA championship team when then-Coach Pat Riley and veteran Heat center Alonzo Mourning transitioned the leadership torches onto Shaquille O'Neal and a young D-Wade.
In due time, after Shaq departed, Riles passed his playbook onto Heat lifer coach Erik Spoelstra, returning to his presidential GM role full-time with the Heat organization, while Wade assumed the on-court leadership job.
All of this, of course, led to Wade recruiting LeBron and Chris Bosh into the famed Big 3 club in July 2010 so that the All-Star trio could embark together on a dynasty quest.
But it was LeBron's leadership and MVP-level play that actually enabled Miami to create this empire, this enterprise under single domination, winning back-to-back titles in both 2012 and 2013 to bring LeBron's vision into fruition.
"This team is amazing," said LeBron in the NBA Finals press conference. "And the vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true. Through adversity, through everything we've been through, we've been able to persevere, and been able to win back-to-back championships. It's an unbelievable feeling and I'm happy to be a part of such a first-class organization."
We saw Riley's organizational imprint in how all the puzzle pieces fit around LeBron and Wade, not to mention Big 3 partner Chris Bosh.
We saw the organization's foresight pay off in the frenetically wonderful playoff play of Chris "Birdman" Andersen, a January 2013 acquisition.
We saw it in the clutch trey-shooting play of Shane Battier--like the way that rhymes?--who made 6-of-8 three-pointers for 18 dagger points in Game 7. Battier, remember, was a December 2011 acquisition.
We saw it in the stretch-the-defense shooting of Mike Miller and Ray Allen, who both surprisingly threw up goose-eggs (zero points on combined 0-for-9 shooting) in Game 7, but were truly amazing in most of the other NBA Finals games. Allen, of course, was a July 2012 acquisition, while Miller made the small print of the paper when Miami's Big 3 was acquired in July 2010.
And we saw it in the play of big-time lil guard Mario Chalmers, who scored 14 points on a +9 plus-minus score to keep the Heat attack pumping all four quarters. The only way Chalmers is still on this team is because of the sacrifice of Big 3 members LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, who all took a combined $8 million less, so that the Heat could keep valued 2009-10 returning players like Chalmers and playoffs starting power forward Udonis Haslem.
But this story does not get written, and this dynasty and empire do not take form Thursday, without the Game 7 contributions of LeBron and D-Wade.
Wade's play was expected, yet unexpected.
With the deep bone bruise on his right knee, the three-time NBA champion Wade was inconsistent early in Games 1 through 3, putting up good first halves that were followed by woeful second-half drop-offs, where he only made 22 percent of his shots.
In Games 4 through 7, however, Wade surprised most by suddenly returning to pre-injury All-NBA form, scoring 94 points on a decent 83 shots in those four games.
But it was Wade's play in Game 7 that let everyone known that the player once known as D-Wade, Flash, WOW and--his new nickname--Three, was indeed in control on the big stage.
"All the giddiness is the champagne talking," said Wade at the NBA Finals press conference following his 23-point, 10-rebound Game 7 showing, "but this is the sweetest one by far because of everything we've been through. Everything I've been through individually. To get here to this moment, to have that kind of performance, that kind of game, to lead my team. It's special, man. So special."
And then there is LeBron.
What more can be said about the man known worldwide as King James?
He is a two-time NBA champ, two-time Finals MVP and four-time regular season MVP. And he played that way, scoring 37 points at will, in 45 minutes, nailing shot (5-for-10 on 3s) after shot (7-for-13 on 2s) after shot (8-for-8 on free throws), accepting the challenge to shoot jumpers over the outstretched hands of Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and their roaming backup on the interior Tim Duncan.
Add it all up and LeBron shot 20 jumpers outside of the paint Thursday and scored 23 points off them. Wade took 14 jumpers outside the paint and made 14 points on those particular shots. For both, this was a much better success rate than the two had in previous games, where Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich's game plan was basically daring LeBron and D-Wade to make jumpers consistently.
Not only that. LeBron and D-Wade both made long jumpers down the stretch, when they were both marathon-tired after this 105-game season of theirs.
LeBron made 3-of-5 long 2s or 3s in the game's final 7:13, while Wade made 1-of-2 long 2s, along with a key layup--all of which kept the Spurs trailing anywhere from 2 to 6 points for most of that span.
Once the dynamic duo sank three more free throws in the final 23 seconds to ice the game, you could finally dynastic Wade and imperial LeBron begin to sense they had overcome the obstacles.
Overall, Pop's strategy worked. LeBron finished the Finals with an uncharacteristic .529 true shooting percentage, while Wade was .505--major drop-offs from their .640 and .571 regular-season numbers, respectively.
But LeBron and D-Wade's Game 7 performances were enough for them to stay ahead of the heroic efforts of Tim Duncan (24 points on 18 shots with 12 rebounds and 4 steals) and Kawhi Leonard (19 points and 16 rebounds), preventing both Spurs from stealing victory and extending San Antonio's own dynasty in the Heat's house.
"After two-and-a-half games, I watched film and my mind started to work," says LeBron, who also had 10 rebounds and 4 assists in Game 7. "And I saw this was the way they were going to play me for the whole series. I looked at all my regular-season stats, all my playoffs stats. And I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game. And I shot a career-high at the three-point line. I just told myself, 'Don't abandon what you've done all year. Don't abandon now just because they're going under [the screens], and don't force the paint. If it's there, take it. If not, take the jumper.'
"I did a good job in Game 4. Didn't make as many shots as I'd have liked to in Game 5, but I kept on getting into the rhythm of it. And [it was about] just saying, "Everything you've worked on, the repetitions, the practices, the off-season training. No matter how big the stakes are, no matter what's on the line, just go with it. And I was able to do that."
Spurs defensive anchor Duncan was distraught afterwards, saying, "We were making adjustments throughout the game. They were making shots, we made adjustments, we closed, we double-teamed every once in awhile, just to change up the look on them. But they made shots. They made enough shots to put them over the top. Something we were willing to live with. Keeping [them] away from the basket. As I said, LeBron was unbelievable. He stepped up in this last game to make us change our defense over-and-over again. We just couldn't find a way to stop him."
Nobody could stop King James in 2012 and 2013.
Who knows if anyone can in 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and 2017 and 2018?
Somewhere I hear someone laughing.