When the Heat trailed the Spurs by 5 with less than 30 seconds remaining in Game 6, the odds of them winning that game were hovering around the single digit percent area.
That was the darkest hour for LeBron James and company during these NBA Playoffs.
Nine months of work was about to be flushed down the toilet, and LeBron was staring into an abyss with his legacy teetering on the brink. The Heat needed a couple Spurs missed free throws, got two three pointers of their own in those final twenty seconds, both off of second shots no less, and they were able to scrape out an improbable 103-100 win in overtime.
So when you think about it, on Thursday night, the Heat won a hard fought 95-88 Game 7 that probably never should have even taken place. They got more than a little lucky at the end of Game 6, LeBron even admitted it after both Games 6 and 7.
But years from now, there will be no caveats, no asterisks regarding "luck" in the Game 6 box score, just a title coronation the next big thing that felt preordained all season long. (To be clear, LeBron's been "big" for a while, but I mean BIG, like now we can, with a straight face, ramp up the Magic and Michael talk the next couple years. Sports talk radio wet dream alert!)
The King is alive, and the Heat are world champions. Let's dig in on a few winners and losers from the series and Thursday night, shall we?
4. Shane Battier The sign of a real pro? How about this: After being a key component of last season's Heat title winner, Shane Battier played a grand total of 12 minutes in Games 5, 6, and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana. He played exactly zero minutes in Game 7 of that series. ZERO. In Game 7 last night, he played 29 minutes, went 6 for 8 from the field (all threes), and perhaps most importantly, received continued affirmation that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey just might, might, consider leaving his wife for Shane Battier:
I love @ShaneBattier
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) June 21, 2013
3. Kahwi Leonard Hard to believe that this kid turns 22 next week. After averaging 15/10 in the series, harassing LeBron defensively into three subpar games to start the series, and for large chunks of Games 6 and 7 playing like the second best player on the floor, 2013-14 is going to be a fascinating season for Leonard. There is little doubt that this is the guy Popovich and Spurs fans see as the next big foundation piece to keep the Spurs above the line of prominence heading into the next decade, post Timmy and Manu (and probably Tony, eventually). These playoffs were a fantastic start.
2. LeBron James Before the series, I picked the Heat in seven games with the main reason being they had LeBron James on their team, and the Spurs did not. It took a few games to get going, and really didn't kick into high gear until Game 6, but eventually this series boiled down to just that: under any filtering criteria, LeBron James is the greatest player walking the earth. Big games, late in games, elimination games, regular season games, playoff games, reindeer games, board games, drinking games, whatever. He is now in the multiple title club, and has two at age 28, same as Michael Jordan. That's where this is now officially going. This is Tiger chasing Jack, but in basketball. (With apologies to Bill Russell and his 11 titles, for most modern era fans, these are considered the two greatest players. I'm ducking for cover as all the Russell fans in their seventies dislocate their shoulders throwing Geritol bottles at me.) Old lion's 1990's legacy versus young lion's new millennium charge. Man, this was so close to being a miserable offseason for LeBron James. So close. But he got it done. Somehow, some way.
1. Gamblers! Perhaps one of the greatest things about the Internet (other than ordering pizza without talking to a human, iTunes, and Paulina Gretzky's Instagram account) is that we get gambling odds at the virtual second that they are released in the desert. The first cork hadn't even been launched out of a champagne bottle last night when R.J. Bell of pregame.com tweeted out the first set of odds for next season, and for the first time in a long time, we didn't have to get very far down the list before getting to the Rockets:
2013-14 NBA Title Odds
Miami Heat 3/1 OKC Thunder 7/1 San Antonio Spurs 10/1 Chicago Bulls 11/1 Indiana Pacers 16/1 LA Clippers 20/1 Houston Rockets 22/1
Seventh! Perhaps Vegas has heard Dwight Howard rumblings? We'll see. LOSERS
4. ESPN studio show Maybe we're spoiled by TNT's transcendent studio show, with Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley,
Shaq, and steered masterfully by Ernie Johnson. Whatever the case, the ESPN crew just pales in comparison. I still have no idea why they let Jalen Rose bring the show in and out of break. (Jalen's not a bad analyst, but steering the ship? Yikes.) It's like driving over to the Galleria from downtown, and then for no reason letting your 10 year old son handle the Chimney Rock exit off of 59 (Houstonians, you know). It makes no sense.
Two exceptions when it comes to the studio show's performance:
First, the post game interview with LeBron James by Jalen, Magic, and Bill Simmons was fantastic. LeBron has really opened up in post game conversations this season, and the three ABC guys did a phenomenal job of capitalizing on that and setting him up for some really good candor.
Second, would be this....
3. Drunk Heat fan
Kudos to Bill Simmons for keeping it together. Composure in the face of the one Miami Heat fan who cares enough to get shitfaced, actually stick around after the game, and scream in the camera like he's from the Northeast. Good job, Bill.
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2. The "Big Three" moniker If there's a tired notion and shred of lazy analysis that this Heat run should have dispelled, it's that "you have to have three stars." The only thing we learned you have to have in these playoffs is you have to have LeBron James. Dwyane Wade is still a star. A fading one, a flawed one, a damaged one, but a star nonetheless. Chris Bosh is not, and I don't even say that because he didn't score one goddamn point in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I say that because he didn't score one goddamn point in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and his team still won by seven points. When the Heat unveiled Bosh, James, and Wade to the world as a trio in July 2010 in that circle jerk of a welcome party, I was fine with calling them a "Big Three." Bosh was a multi-time All-Star and a legit 20/10 guy in Toronto. But "Big Three" does not imply permanent membership. Bosh isn't even close to the piece he was three years ago. He's almost solely a jump shooter, and a pesky defensive player, at best. He's basically a younger version of Sam Perkins. I think the Heat should look hard at moving him now while he might still have value, I don't care that they won last night. Too many red flags with Bosh this post season. His spot can be upgraded.
And that "Big Three" expulsion I was just espousing for Bosh? Yeah, same thing for Ginobili, times ten. Manu spent more of this series stumbling around like he like just left a keg party than playing at the near elite level we've become accustomed to seeing. Now, he's a free agent. My guess is he's back with the Spurs at a serious discount, but for the first time in a decade, his leaving in the offseason would not really be a needle mover.
1. Danny Green How other worldly was Danny Green shooting the ball from deep for the Spurs in Games 1 through 5 of this series? Well enough to where he could go a putrid 2 for 11 in Games 6 and 7 combined and still finish over 55 percent from downtown for the series! That's incredible. What's not incredible was Danny Green's painful, Louie Anderson-plunge-off-the-high-dive plummet back to being, well, Danny Green. After averaging 18 points per game in the first five games, and seeing his Finals MVP odds go from 80/1 down to 2/1, Green shot 2 for 19 in the last two games, and even worse looked like a frightened middle schooler, dribbling into traffic, throwing ill advised passes. I mean, at least when John Starks went 2 for 18 in Game 7 back in 1994, he still looked like he was ready to steal your lunch money. If Danny Green was Cinderella, then when midnight finally struck, he didn't just flip back to old rags for clothes. Cinderella became a full on crack whore.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.