Game 5: Oklahoma City at Miami
It is about damn time. After game 5 mercilessly ended for the overwhelmed Thunder, LeBron James had a conversation with Kevin Durant. It seemed to go on for longer than these sorts of talks normally do. The defeated player always seems anxious to go, but they want to hear what their competitor has to say. I’ve written about Jordan and Barkley’s exchange after Michal beat Chuck’s excellent Suns team in 1993 (after their friendship flourished on the Dream Team). I’ve heard Chuck speak about it before, but I always feel like it’s one of the those things even Chuck doesn’t really talk about with his usual detail. I wonder what LeBron said to Durant. I hope he said a longer and more eloquent: “You will be back and I’ll be here and we’ll do this again real soon.” Whatever he said—he probably said something much more personal and touching than what I offered and congratulated his summer “hell week” partner for another incredible season and many more overtures of respect and more than that, empathy—it made me happy. LeBron winning the title made me happy, and him trying to empathize with Durant made me happy. I was happy, is what I’m saying.
Then LeBron went over to every single Thunder player and clasped their heads close to his and either whispered something in their ears (like with Durant, but not nearly for as long) or just held the pose of head’s bowed close; and by doing that, implicitly acknowledging, “Hey man, I been there.” It’s that empathy that made this the type of series Stern has been salivating over since the LeBron narrative first took a negative turn in the summer of 2010. Before that the choosen one or king or whatever marketing name you use, had been nearly flawless since first coming under the media’s brutal lense more than a decade ago AS A 16 YEAR-OLD JUNIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL! Sorry to shout, but it IS about damn time to relax the grip we seem to have on this guy as some sort of sounding board for all that is wrong with the game; he’s all that’s right with the game, and he proved it.
LeBron tried to speak a couple words to every Thunder player because he knows what it’s like to lose. Fortunately for Durant, he doesn’t have to suffer the ignominy of spectacularly failing in this series like LeBron did against Dallas a year ago. Durant—although unable to contain James or win the series—performed admirably and was the primary reason they avoided a sweep after taking over in the fourth quarter in game 1 and nearly winning game 2 the same way. He finished tonight with 32 points, and—unfortunately a little late—11 rebounds. He played like the hyper-efficient/perfect teammate/scoring savant he is. I still think my dream about him will prove prophetic one day, but we’ll just have to wait a bit longer before seeing him drop 64 in a playoff game. For now, he has been cast in a championship loss that forged LeBron a year ago. It’s motivation but also the soul-crushing sting all the champions inevitably experience on their journey for a title. He will of course be back, but now he has something to think about every time he doesn’t feel like running wind sprints or lifting weights this summer.
After the post game presser, LeBron credited his 2011 failure against Dallas with making him grow up and become a better basketball player and a better person. That, ultimately, his lowest of moments on the grandest of stages is what gave him the toughness to get to the podium a champion this year. I’m pretty sure that’s when Stern wet himself with happiness.* Grand success, followed by some cracks in the mythic armor, followed by failure, but then redemption. It’s the hollywood movie we’ve seen again and again; the Byronic hero that overcomes his shortcomings and wins by being himself.
The game itself was similar to Boston’s game 6 against LA in 2008. It was a blowout in the 4th and Miami was even able to take all their starters out before the game ended. Everyone’s spouses and kids could come down and party when the game ended. The Heat blowout was a result of a couple factors: LeBron finally getting that triple-double he was one rebound shy of in game 4, with 26 points 12 assists, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal and the biggest grin imaginable holding the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Trophy; And Mike Miller’s turn as super-sub. Mike Miller was 7/9 from 3-point range for 23 points. This came two days after Mario Chalmers gave the Heat 25 crucial points in game 4, and Shane Battier started the series off with consecutive 17 point games. The Heat supporting cast came through just as much as LeBron. Wade made big plays down the stretch, and Bosh was tough inside with offensive rebounding and general protection of the rim. He also let out a couple Bostrich howls I loved. LeBron finally had an over-achieving team and he was ready. That’s all it took. It wasn’t easy, but it’s not supposed to be.
As James was accepting the Bill Russell 2012 NBA Finals MVP award (after capturing All-NBA First team honors, All-NBA Defensive First Tam honors, and the 2012 MVP) he said a couple words to the trophy’s eponymous representative and the standard-bearer of NBA Finals excellence: Bill Russell. In response to the words of LeBron, Russell’s jaw slanted back in a familiar position as he shook in convulsions of laughter. No one laughs like Bill Russell, no one. James made him laugh that naked laughter of pure joy. Maybe one day LeBron will laugh with that much joy. A joy that can only be found by someone that’s reached their absolute zenith of potential. LeBron took a big step towards that same joy tonight. I couldn’t be happier for him.
Final: MIAMI HEAT 121 - Oklahoma City Thunder 106
The Heat win the series 4-1 and they’re your 2012 NBA Champions. Now lets talk about anyone but LeBron James until at least September.
PHOTOS Yahoo & SI Vault
* You can decide for yourself what the liquid is