LeBron James dominated game seven of the NBA finals to look the part of super-duper-star helping to cement his legacy as an all-time great rather than a guy who chokes in the clutch, and it's amazing just how tenuous that moment was.
A Spurs missed free throw and two missed defensive rebounds are all that separate LeBron James from ultimate hero and ultimate goat. Imagine if Kawhi Leonard connects on both his attempts or if San Antonio grabs the defensive board after LeBron's first miss from the three point line in game six? How different would LeBron's historical legacy look?
It's sort of crazy when you think of it that way. Same guy, same player, but a few events totally out of his control may drastically alter the way he's viewed in the future. It probably means he'll get a bit too much credit for coming through in game seven which was only necessary because he didn't come through earlier, and it also means he likely was probably would have been given too much blame had the Heat not won, especially since Wade/Bosh came through even less and had greater statistical fall offs from the regular season.
However, I doubt LeBron (or anyone else) will lose much sleep over him getting a little too much credit, and the Heat escaped with another NBA championship. Gregg Poppovich was all class in defeat, warmly embracing everyone on the Heat and giving them all the credit in the world for the win. In the moment, he didn't talk about the pain of loss, but the accomplishment in getting as far as they did.
Given that Spurs team, I'd have to agree with him. Incredible accomplishment to get as far as they did both in terms of making it to the finals and pushing the Heat to seven games. In the final game, the Spurs couldn't find much shooting going just 37.8% from the field and 32% from three. Tony Parker shot just 25% from the field, and the Spurs struggled without their primary play maker having a quality game. Parker wasn't even on the floor for their last attempt to reel in the Heat as the Spurs substituted in Gary Neal to get more shooting.
Tim Duncan had another great performance to give San Antonio a shot, but he missed his layup and his put back attempt, both good looks, to tie the game with under a minute to go. Miami never gave them another chance. LeBron was magnificent in the moment this time, knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot. Killing San Antonio with the mid range jumper he hit all season. The shot he'd missed all playoffs.
Of everyone in this series, Kawhi Leonard has to hurt the most. Leonard missed the free throw that ices the championship, and though it took a perfect storm of other events for that to matter, he'll likely never get another chance in his life to make it up. To his credit, he put that behind him and had an incredible game seven for the Spurs, but you know he'll lose sleep over that one for life.
Now the real off-season for the world of basketball begins. It will be interesting to see if Miami keeps the team together, if they're willing to absorb the tax bill, and in particular what happens with Chris Bosh. There's been talk about dealing Bosh, but I'd bet he gets about as much interest as Pau Gasol does right now.
Potentially two years and around 40 million on the hook, and Bosh really doesn't look like much of a bargain to anyone in this massive tax area. Certainly not a guy you're giving anything of value up to get which means if Miami does trade him, they'll come back a considerably worse team most likely. One potentially interesting idea for them might be to move him for Omer Asik and change to Houston.
If the Rockets fail to get Howard they might like a more offensive minded big man, and if they get Howard they may not want to spend so much on a backup center and prefer to strengthen their starting lineup. If Howard does go there then the salaries become more difficult to match with Houston not being able to absorb Bosh any longer which means Miami isn't necessarily saving anything.
The Heat would gain the defensive/rebounding/toughness that they need with such a trade while possibly helping out their payroll while Houston gets a guy capable of being a #2 player who's been stuck having his talents minimized in Miami.
That said, I think the best move for the Heat (if they can stomach the cost) is to stand pat and give it one more run with this group. They'll be the favorites to win again next season, and there's a good chance the team breaks up after that, so it's probably best not to mess with success. LeBron's original exuberance of winning eight titles doesn't seem in reach, but three titles looks like a reasonable goal and is enough to start placing him near the top of the all time greats list.
Is basketball the only sport where number of titles is a meaningful measuring stick rather than just yes/no on whether you've gotten at least one? It might be. At any rate, congratulations to the Heat. They've always had my respect and while they should have never let it get this close, they woke up in time to get it done.