The better team won. We can say it a million different ways, and I will contribute to the million. But the bottom line, the Heat was better than the Spurs. Not by a lot. But better. The Heat won 95-88 Thursday night in a Game 7 that was more riveting drama in a fantastic Finals. But in the end, what we believed to be true was proven true, and not just because of the final score. The Heat was better. Here’s why.
* Miami’s stars were better than San Antonio’s stars. Or maybe that should be Miami’s star was better than San Antonio’s stars. Or I suppose Miami’s star was better than San Antonio’s star.
Outside of LeBron, it wasn’t always easy to figure out who were the stars. Tim Duncan was mostly sensational, but in key moments of Game 6, he was on the bench. Tony Parker was indispensable for the Spurs, but he, too, wasn’t on the court for a play that in Game 7 could keep alive the San Antonio season. Dwyane Wade was great in several games and lost in others. Chris Bosh became a junk man.
But LeBron was fantastico. LeBron averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists in this series. Only once before had a player averaged the 25-10-7 threshold in an NBA Finals. That would be LeBron James in 2012.
* I have no problem with Gregg Popovich’s defensive plan to make LeBron shoot outside. LeBron slew the Spurs with jumpers in Game 7. He made 12 of 23 shots; five of the baskets were 3-pointers (on 10 tries) and took just four shots in the paint. LeBron was 8-of-19 on outside shots. Seemed like he was 18-of-19, but nope; 8-of-9. That’s the strategy Popovich had to deploy. Letting LeBron get to the basket is sure defeat.
* San Antonio’s young players wilted. Not Kawhi Leonard. Not at all. But the other three — Danny Green, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter — not only played poorly, they played scared. The latter is much worse. They played like they had stepped up in class. Green dribbled into double teams. Splitter look lost. Neal was unsure of himself.
Remember when we thought San Antonio was a deep team? In Game 7, Neal played 26:26 and Boris Diaw played 12:41. No other Spur came off the bench to play more than 41/2 minutes. I might have played Diaw more, but the Spurs were outscored by 16 points in his 12:41.
Green went from Finals MVP favorite to bumbler. In the final two games, Green played 77 minutes and made two of 19 shots.
* Frankly, I don’t know how this was even a game. Wade was solid, LeBron was spectacular, Shane Battier couldn’t miss and the Heat was playing tough defense. No Spur got hot. Yet this was a ballgame the whole way. Leonard missed an open 3-pointer that would have given the Spurs a 91-90 in the final 90 seconds. Duncan missed two point-blank shots that would have tied it in the final 50 seconds.
This game, as much as any game ever, is a testament to the Spurs’ greatness and culture. I have no idea how they were in the game, but they were.
* Of course, Leonard is a good place to start: 19 points, 16 rebounds as a 21-year-old in a Game 7. The guy’s a ballplayer. He’s never had great success in defending Kevin Durant, but I don’t know why Leonard wouldn’t develop into such a force. He did a decent job on LeBron.
* Ray Allen and Mike Miller combined to go 0-for-9. But it didn’t seem like that big a deal. LeBron and Wade shooting effectively makes up for it.
* Manu Ginobili was much better in Game 7 than he was in that Game 6 debacle. But when Ginobili was bad, he was real bad. The turnover in the final 30 seconds effectively ended the Spurs’ hopes.
Some of the things you get away with against inferior teams or in lesser situations, you can’t get away with in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Jumping in the air, then trying to decide what to do, that’s not going to work against LeBron and Chris Bosh, when both are locked in defensively. Which they were with the NBA title on the line.
* Parker’s final two games — 3-of-12 shooting in Game 7, 6-of-23 shooting in Game 6, a combined 9-of-35 — has nothing to do with Tony Parker and everything to do with LeBron’s defense.
* Strange coaching series. Questionable substitutions — Parker was not on the court with the Spurs down four, inbounding with 27.9 seconds — and players going in and out of fashion. The Birdman didn’t even play in Game 4 or Game 5, yet he played 14 minutes in Game 6 and 181/2 solid minutes in Game 7. Really bothered Duncan.