He said he would appreciate this one more because of how tough it was. The Heat overpowered Oklahoma City in five games last year, a team of 20-something kids who weren't ready to be champions yet.
This came against a respected group of Spurs whose trio has combined for more than 100 playoff victories together and wanted one more in case this was San Antonio's last rodeo.
Duncan is 37 and Ginobili will be a 36-year-old free agent next month, the core of a franchise whose best days may be behind them.
Meanwhile, it's a potential dynasty along Biscayne Bay, but also one with a potentially small window. Wade's latest knee problems are a reminder that though he came into the NBA at the same time as James and Bosh, he's a couple of years older at 31 with wheels that have seen some miles.
James can become a free agent again next summer with another decision — though hopefully not another Decision — to make. He's comfortable in Miami and close with Wade, and the Heat have the leadership and commitment from owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley to keep building a championship core around him.
Why would he want to leave?
San Antonio's most recent title came at James' expense. The Spurs exploited the weaknesses in James' game though knew someday they would be gone, Duncan telling him afterward that the league would someday belong to James.
And James simply isn't giving it back.
He came in averaging 33.8 points in Game 7s, already the best in NBA history, and was even better in this one.
He can't be defended the way he was six years ago, too strong inside and too solid from the outside. He drove Danny Green back like a tackling dummy to convert a three-point play in the second quarter, then knocked down a 3-pointer for the Heat's next score.
Heat fans, criticized over the last two days after many bolted before the finish Tuesday and then tried to force their way back in, weren't going anywhere early in this one. The game was too good.
And there was another celebration to watch.
The Heat had the classic championship hangover through the first few months of this season, too strong to lose at home but not committed enough to win on the road, where they were just 11-11 following a 102-89 loss in Indiana on Feb. 1.
They won in Toronto two nights later on Super Bowl Sunday and didn't lose again until well into March Madness, running off 27 straight victories before falling in Chicago on March 27 and finishing a franchise-best 66-16.
The small-market Spurs have always been a ratings killer, but interest grew throughout this series in their attempt to toppled the champs. Game 6 drew more than 20 million viewers, a total that Game 7 was expected to top.
And the games got better, too. Games 2-5 were all decided by double digits, neither team able to carry its momentum from one game to the next.
This one was back and forth for more than three quarters, with Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer at the buzzer giving Miami a 72-71 lead heading to the final 12 minutes of the season.
Game 6 could have shaken the Spurs, who were so close to holding the trophy that officials were preparing the championship presentation before Miami's rally. The Spurs held a team dinner late that night, figuring the company was better than having to dwell on the defeat alone in their rooms.
The pain of that game or the pressure of this one had little effect on their veterans but brought out a change in their leader, the subject of some rare second-guessing for his rotations near the end of the collapse.
The famously blunt Popovich was in a chatty mood pregame, actually preferring to stay and talk even when there were no more questions, saying the busier he was, the less he'd worry.
"It's torture," he said earlier of Game 7s. "It's hard to appreciate or enjoy torture."
But it sure was beautiful to watch.
The sport's most pressure-packed game had a nervous start, each team making just seven baskets in the first quarter and combining for seven turnovers. The Spurs took an early seven-point lead, but a pair of 3-pointers by Battier during an 8-0 run helped Miami take an 18-16 lead.
The Heat nursed a narrow lead for most of the second quarter, and after San Antonio went ahead in the final minute of the period, James tipped in a miss before Wade knocked down a jumper with 0.8 seconds left to send the Heat to the locker room with a 46-44 edge.
Notes: Home teams are 15-3 in Game 7s of the NBA Finals. ... Miami improved to 5-3 all-time in Game 7s in the postseason and became the fourth team to win the final two games at home since the finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, joining the Lakers in 1988 and 2010, and Houston Rockets in 1994. ... Green was just 1 for 12, going 1 for 6 behind the arc. He started the series by making 25 3s in the first five games, a finals record for an entire series.
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