The 2012-13 NBA Finals was the best finals series I’ve seen since…well…ever. It was definitely the most well-played finals in a long time. All of the games felt like wars, even the four blowouts.
This series was the two best teams in the NBA giving each other everything they had. It was seven Hall of Famers, some in their primes, most past them, reaching deep and trying to best each other. It was two heavyweight champions trading blow after blow after blow.
There was The Shot in Game 1 by Tony Parker, followed by The Block in Game 2 by LeBron James. There was The Danny Green in Game 3, answered by The Return of Dwyane Wade in Game 4, then The Response by Manu Ginobili in Game 5.
Then, of course, came The Headband/Ray Allen Game in Game 6, and Game 7, which I’ll just call Game 7 since it was everything a Game 7 is supposed to be. It was tightly contested. It featured role players and Hall of Famers alike diving on the floor for loose balls every few minutes. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was never slow or boring.
It was fast, it was furious, it was a grind, and in the end, the biggest player on the court, LeBron James, stepped up in the biggest moments.
James was so good in Game 7, in fact, that you probably didn’t notice that 40 percent of the Heat’s starting five, and 50 percent of their Hall of Famers, went scoreless. Only five Heat players—James, Wade, Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen and Shane Battier—scored in Game 7, and Andersen only scored three points. Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem did not score.
You know it’s a tough series when LeBron James’ “legacy” is called into question at least four different times—which no one gets to do again, ever. James’ line over the final two games of the series: 34.5 points, 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. That’s in Games 6 and 7, with his team up against the wall and all the pressure on him.
Oh, by the way, he also made Tony Parker disappear. Parker shot 9-of-35 in the final two games of the series and, besides those two shots at the end of regulation in Game 6, was absolutely a non-factor. Many were ready to crown Parker Best Point Guard in the League if the Spurs won the finals.
Then there were the specific plays James made.
He stuffed Tim Duncan in the fourth quarter of Game 6. He led the furious comeback for the Heat and then scored the winning basket in overtime—which everyone seems to have forgotten.
He had a brilliant assist to Shane Battier for a corner three near the end of Game 7, a play which only happened because James pushed the ball up the court at exactly the right moment. Then he made the cold-blooded shot that iced the game for the Heat, followed by a steal and two clutch free throws.
Yes, James looked strangely passive in Games 1 through 3. But if Passive LeBron equals 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists a game, I’ll take Passive LeBron over any other player in the league right now.
And yes, he was remarkably inefficient by his standards throughout the series. He shot 44.7 percent—well, that’s still pretty damn good.
And yes, he had those two turnovers in the final minute of Game 6. But that doesn’t even matter. LeBron James had shifted into—not fifth gear, something more like seventh gear—in that fourth quarter. He was far from perfect, but my goodness, he was energetic, on both ends of the floor.
He expended so much energy that he dragged his whole team back into the game by sheer force of will—and if a couple mistakes were made along the way, so what? He shifted the momentum of the game so much that I suspect the Heat would have won that game somehow, some way, even if LeBron had gone 0-of-10 in that quarter.
Thursday night, LeBron James cemented his legacy forever. It doesn’t matter if he shoots 25 percent for the rest of his career, never wins another playoff game and makes 10 more Decisions—he is one of the greatest to ever play the game, period, and one of the greatest competitors in all of sports.
Plus, he may have just stolen Larry Bird’s spot on the All-Time Starting Five (Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan/Larry Bird/some permutation of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal). But that’s a debate for another time.
It’s a shame that James did all this legacy-cementing at the expense of probably the greatest 4 to ever play the game, Tim Duncan.
Tim Duncan’s performances in Games 6 and 7 will probably be forgotten, except for that jump hook he missed at the end of Game 7 with the score still 90-88. Nevertheless, talk about turning back the clock: With a title on the line, Duncan averaged 27 points and 14.5 rebounds per game in the last two games of the series.
I don’t know if we’ll ever see a performance like that from a big man again, since the dominant big man seems to be an endangered species.
But that’s just the kind of series it was. Tim Duncan got in a time machine and went back to 2003 for two straight games, and the competition was so fierce that no one noticed.
It’s all over now, and I can’t believe there won’t be a Game 8 or a Game 9. It feels like these two teams will be going at each other forever, making strategic adjustments game to game with the momentum shifting seemingly every half. If the Heat and Spurs played 100 games, I’m not sure the score wouldn’t be 50 to 50 at the end.
Unless, of course, LeBron James says, “Eff this, I’m taking over.” Then the Spurs, and everyone else, would be done, forever.