MIAMI — The Miami Heat repeated as NBA champions on Thursday night with a 95-88 win over the San Antonio Spurs in the decisive seventh game of an epic series.
Miami’s LeBron James, the sport’s biggest star playing at the peak of his powers, had a game-high 37 points and pulled in 12 rebounds in a dominant performance while Dwyane Wade had 23 points.
James, named most valuable player of the Finals, shot 12-of-23 from the floor, including 5-of-10 three-pointers to lead Miami to their third NBA title and his second just two nights after the Heat’s championship defence almost ended abruptly.
San Antonio, chasing a fifth NBA title, were just seconds away from clinching the championship on Tuesday before Miami staged an extraordinary comeback to win in overtime and force a decisive seventh game.
The visitors made a great start on Thursday, opening up a seven-point lead in the first quarter and by three late in the third quarter but came up just short.
Tim Duncan scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Spurs while Kawhi Leonard had 19 in the winner-take-all clash that had whipped basketball fans into a frenzy of excitement during a wildly fluctuating series full of escalating drama.
Courtside tickets for Thursday’s game were selling on the secondary market for up to $30,000 and the game lived up to the hype with both teams fiercely contesting every possession.
Miami made yet another slow start and trailed by seven points less than five minutes into the game, a sloppy pass from James allowing Duncan an easy dunk.
A trademark turnaround jumper from Wade indicated the veteran from the Heat’s 2006 title-winning team was in an aggressive mood and the introduction of Chris Andersen into the game injected some more energy into the Heat.
A pair of three pointers from Shane Battier brought roars from the crowd as Miami built an 18-16 lead by the end of the opening quarter.
James took a rest for the opening three minutes of the second quarter and the Spurs kept close. With just under seven minutes left in the half, the teams were tied at 27-27, both shooting 11-30 from the field.
The brief rest paid off as James quickly gave Miami a six-point lead — he was fouled while scoring, putting away the free throw and then followed up with a three-pointer from deep.
But while the Heat were moving the ball well, typically, San Antonio kept close, helped by a huge three pointer from Gary Neal before a Duncan lay-up leveled the game at 40-40 with 1:55 left in the half.
Wade ended a fine first half performance with a fall-away jump shot to give the Heat a 46-44 lead at the break after scoring 14 points on 7-12 shooting and grabbing six rebounds.
James drained his third three-pointer early in the third quarter but two jumpers from the an impressive Kawhi Leonard, who had grabbed 10 first-half rebounds, ensured the Spurs kept with the pace.
Danny Green, who had been struggling with his shooting, sank a three-pointer to put San Antonio briefly a point ahead with 5:27 left in the third but James responded with two long rangers of his own, his five three-pointers a personal best in an NBA Finals game.
The Spurs led by two but Mario Chalmers beat the buzzer at the end of the third with a 30-footer to take Miami into the final quarter of the season with a 72-71 lead.
A Battier three gave the Heat an early four point cushion and a Wade basket extended the lead to six with 7:14 remaining.
But San Antonio again responded and when Leonard drained a three-pointer it was a two-point game with two minutes left.
Chalmers missed two free throws but with 27 seconds left James delivered the killer blow with a vital jump shot and then made sure of victory when he snatched a Manu Ginobili pass, was fouled and put away both his free throws.
Wade added another from the free throw line before the crowd erupted in celebration.
James, 28, also won the MVP award last year when Miami beat the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the championship and he has swept all the major awards in the past two seasons.
Four times in the last five seasons, including each of the last two, he has been named MVP during the regular season, elevating him among the greatest players the game has seen.
James, who was widely criticized in the United States after leaving his former team Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami in search NBA championship rings, received the award from Boston Celtics great Bill Russell.
“I’m blessed,” James said at the trophy presentation. “What everyone says about me off the floor doesn’t matter.”
NOTES: Spurs G Gary Neal banked in a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Battier hit one like that for the Heat in Game 6. … Heat G Ray Allen played his 11th Game 7, breaking the NBA record previously held by Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. … Wade, who collided with Ginobili in Game 6, said he woke up Wednesday with a stiff and swollen left knee. He also has struggled with an ailing right knee for most of the postseason. … Thursday was the 18th Game 7 of an NBA Finals and just the sixth since 1978. It was also just the second time that a Miami pro team hosted a Game 7 for a championship. The then-Florida Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians in the finale to win the 1997 World Series. … The Spurs had played in one previous NBA Finals Game 7, beating the Detroit Pistons in 2005. … James has four triple-doubles in NBA Finals games, the second-best total in league history, trailing only Magic Johnson’s eight. … Miami F Udonis Haslem did not play in Game 6 due to coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision, the first time that happened all season. On Thursday, Haslem entered the game in the second quarter.