NBA Finals: Heat top Spurs to repeat as champs

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NBA Finals: Heat top Spurs to repeat as champs

MIAMI -- Victory in Game 7 brought more than another crown for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. It validated the team and its leader, forever cementing their place among the NBA's greats.

For the vanquished San Antonio Spurs, it simply compounded the misery of a championship that got away.

James led the Heat to their second straight title, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 95-88 victory Thursday night in a tense game that was tight until Miami pulled away in the final minute.

Capping their best season in franchise history -- and perhaps the three-superstar system they used to build it -- the Heat ran off with the second straight thriller in the NBA's first championship series to go the distance since 2010.

Two nights after his Game 6 save when the Heat were almost eliminated, James continued his unparalleled run through the basketball world, with two titles and an Olympic gold medal in the last 12 months.

"I work on my game a lot throughout the offseason," said James, who was MVP for the second straight finals. "I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out here and (have) the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate. The ultimate. I'm at a loss for words."

He made five 3-pointers, defended Tony Parker when he had to, and did everything else that could ever be expected from the best player in the game.

The Heat became the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2009-10, and the first team to beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

"It took everything we had as a team," Dwyane Wade said. "Credit to the San Antonio Spurs, they're an unbelievable team, an unbelievable franchise. This is the hardest series we ever had to play. But we're a resilient team and we did whatever it took."

Players and coaches hugged afterward -- their respect for each other was obvious from the opening tipoff of Game 1 through the final buzzer.

A whisker away from a fifth title two nights earlier, the Spurs couldn't find a way to win it all in what was perhaps the last shot for Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili to grab another ring together.

"In my case I still have Game 6 in my head," Ginobili said. "Today we played an OK game, they just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane (Battier), too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and seeing it vanish is very hard."

They were trying to become the first team to win a Game 7 on the road since Washington beat Seattle in 1978, but those old guys ran out of gas just before the finish.

Fans stood, clapped and danced as the clock ticked down, when every score was answered by another score, each stop followed by a better stop. The Heat pushed their lead to six points a few times midway through the fourth but San Antonio kept coming back.

Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, but missed a shot and follow attempt right under the basket with about 50 seconds left and the Spurs trailing by two.

James followed with a jumper -- the shot the Spurs were daring him to take earlier in the series -- to make it 92-88, sending San Antonio to a timeout as Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" blared over the arena's sound system.

He then came up with a steal and made two free throws for a six-point lead, and after Ginobili missed, James stalked toward the sideline, knowing it was over and that he was, once again, the last one standing.

Wade had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who overcame a scoreless Chris Bosh by getting six 3-pointers and 18 points from Shane Battier.

"It was a great series and we all felt that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I don't know if `enjoy' is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I'm starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back. And you need to do that, to put in perspective. So it's no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team. And you can live with that as long as you've given your best, and I think we have."

Streamers fell from the arena ceiling onto the fans for the second year in a row, but this one meant so much more. A narrow escape in Game 6 was still fresh in everyone's mind.

They were down 10 in the fourth quarter of that one before James led the charge back, finishing with a triple-double in Miami's 103-100 overtime victory. This one was nearly as tight, neither team leading by more than seven and the game tied 11 times.

Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Spurs, who had been 4 for 4 in the championship round. Ginobili had 18 points but Parker managed just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

"Just give credit to the Miami Heat. LeBron was unbelievable. Dwyane was great. I just think they found a way to get it done," Duncan said. "We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game, we just couldn't turn that corner."

The Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra collected the Larry O'Brien trophy again from Commissioner David Stern, presiding over his final NBA Finals before retiring next February.

He couldn't have asked for a better way to go out.

James avenged his first finals loss, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs on 2007. That helped send James on his way to South Florida, realizing it would take more help to win titles that could never come alone.

He said he would appreciate this one more because of how tough it was. The Heat overpowered Oklahoma City in five games last year, a team of 20-something kids who weren't ready to be champions yet.

This came against a respected group of Spurs whose trio has combined for more than 100 playoff victories together and wanted one more in case this was San Antonio's last rodeo.

Duncan is 37 and Ginobili will be a 36-year-old free agent next month, the core of a franchise whose best days may be behind them.

Meanwhile, it's a potential dynasty along Biscayne Bay, but also one with a potentially small window. Wade's latest knee problems are a reminder that though he came into the NBA at the same time as James and Bosh, he's a couple of years older at 31 with wheels that have seen some miles.

James can become a free agent again next summer with another decision -- though hopefully not another Decision -- to make. He's comfortable in Miami and close with Wade, and the Heat have the leadership and commitment from owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley to keep building a championship core around him.

Why would he want to leave?

San Antonio's most recent title came at James' expense. The Spurs exploited the weaknesses in James' game though knew someday they would be gone, Duncan telling him afterward that the league would someday belong to James.

And James simply isn't giving it back.

He came in averaging 33.8 points in Game 7s, already the best in NBA history, and was even better in this one.

He can't be defended the way he was six years ago, too strong inside and too solid from the outside. He drove Danny Green back like a tackling dummy to convert a three-point play in the second quarter, then knocked down a 3-pointer for the Heat's next score.

Heat fans, criticized over the last two days after many bolted before the finish Tuesday and then tried to force their way back in, weren't going anywhere early in this one. The game was too good.

And there was another celebration to watch.

The Heat had the classic championship hangover through the first few months of this season, too strong to lose at home but not committed enough to win on the road, where they were just 11-11 following a 102-89 loss in Indiana on Feb. 1.

They won in Toronto two nights later on Super Bowl Sunday and didn't lose again until well into March Madness, running off 27 straight victories before falling in Chicago on March 27 and finishing a franchise-best 66-16.

The small-market Spurs have always been a ratings killer, but interest grew throughout this series in their attempt to toppled the champs. Game 6 drew more than 20 million viewers, a total that Game 7 was expected to top.

And the games got better, too. Games 2-5 were all decided by double digits, neither team able to carry its momentum from one game to the next.

This one was back and forth for more than three quarters, with Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer at the buzzer giving Miami a 72-71 lead heading to the final 12 minutes of the season.

Game 6 could have shaken the Spurs, who were so close to holding the trophy that officials were preparing the championship presentation before Miami's rally. The Spurs held a team dinner late that night, figuring the company was better than having to dwell on the defeat alone in their rooms.

The pain of that game or the pressure of this one had little effect on their veterans but brought out a change in their leader, the subject of some rare second-guessing for his rotations near the end of the collapse.

The famously blunt Popovich was in a chatty mood pregame, actually preferring to stay and talk even when there were no more questions, saying the busier he was, the less he'd worry.

"It's torture," he said earlier of Game 7s. "It's hard to appreciate or enjoy torture."

But it sure was beautiful to watch.

The sport's most pressure-packed game had a nervous start, each team making just seven baskets in the first quarter and combining for seven turnovers. The Spurs took an early seven-point lead, but a pair of 3-pointers by Battier during an 8-0 run helped Miami take an 18-16 lead.

The Heat nursed a narrow lead for most of the second quarter, and after San Antonio went ahead in the final minute of the period, James tipped in a miss before Wade knocked down a jumper with 0.8 seconds left to send the Heat to the locker room with a 46-44 edge.

Notes
Home teams are 15-3 in Game 7s of the NBA Finals. ... Miami improved to 5-3 all-time in Game 7s in the postseason and became the fourth team to win the final two games at home since the finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, joining the Lakers in 1988 and 2010, and Houston Rockets in 1994. ... Green was just 1 for 12, going 1 for 6 behind the arc. He started the series by making 25 3s in the first five games, a finals record for an entire series.

NBA Notes: Derrick Rose reportedly in contract talks with Cavaliers

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NBA Notes: Derrick Rose reportedly in contract talks with Cavaliers

CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers could be adding another former MVP to their roster.

Looking to close the gap on the champion Golden State Warriors, Cleveland is in contract talks with free agent guard Derrick Rose, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Thursday. Rose, whose career has been sidetracked by injuries, could sign a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum, according to the person, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Cleveland has salary cap issues and is limited in what it can offer Rose, who made $21.3 million while playing in 64 games for the New York Knicks last season.

ESPN.com first reported the Cavs' pursuit of the 28-year-old Rose. Other teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, are interested in him.

Although Rose may not be the same player he was in 2011 when he was named the league's MVP while with the Chicago Bulls, he can still score and would be another nice compliment to LeBron James, a four-time MVP (see full story).

Heat: Haslem returns for 15th season
MIAMI -- Udonis Haslem believes he can still play, and the Miami Heat apparently agree.

The three-time NBA champion has signed a one-year, $2.3 million deal to remain with the Heat for what will be his 15th season. Haslem was already the longest-tenured player in Heat history, with all of his NBA seasons coming for his hometown team.

Among active players, only Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have spent the entirety of a career spanning at least 15 years with one franchise.

"It is a great, great, day to have Udonis Haslem sign a contract for his 15th season with the Miami Heat," team president Pat Riley said Thursday, when the contract was announced. "He isn't just Mr. 305, he is a true patriarch of the team. Today we are proud to announce that he is back to lead the Heat again" (see full story).

Jazz: Griffin inks two-way contract
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz signed big man Eric Griffin to a two-way contract Thursday.

Contract details were not released.

Griffin was a member of the Jazz during NBA summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. He averaged 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in Vegas.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound center/forward played for Hapoel Galil Gilboa in the Israeli Basketball Premier League last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.

This is the first time the Jazz have used the two-way contracts implemented by the NBA for the upcoming season.

Teams can sign two players to these deals in addition to the 15-man roster. The contracts allow NBA teams to better compensate Gatorade League players expected to spend time with the big league team. Griffin can spend up to 45 days in the NBA.

As a Sixers fan, could you actually say no to LeBron James?

As a Sixers fan, could you actually say no to LeBron James?

Admit it, you see that headline and you say to yourself, "Really?" A case needs to be made for the most dominant, all-around player the league has seen since M.J. A guy who will go down as a top-five player ever at worst, arguably one or two in the history of the game. You’re saying, "Here we go again," this is clearly click bait or someone who has lost their flipping mind. James Naismith wouldn’t even bother turning over in his grave when pondering this one.

I mean, this is LeBron James we are talking about here. Forget the individual numbers, which are staggering. The MVPs, All-Star appearances, etc. Never mind the fact that he would be only 33 years old in the summer of 2018, when he is eligible to be a free agent. Hell, he looked older in high school than he does now (minus that pesky hairline thing). Greek gods are envious of the guy’s body. You can even put aside his considerable acting chops in Trainwreck — maybe I went a click too far there. Try focusing on the team aspect for a minute. He has led his squad to the NBA Finals seven consecutive seasons, winning three.

So what’s the catch here? Why wouldn’t any Sixers fan in the name of Alexey Shved want LeBron James playing for their team?    

Let’s assume, for our purpose, he would want to come here. Big assumption. But let’s dream for a minute. The 2017-18 Sixers, first and foremost, remain upright. Injuries are not an issue.

Joel Embiid, while staying healthy, dominates on the floor like he does on social media.

Ben Simmons is, in fact, the visionary, ball-dominant, 6-foot-10 Magic Johnson Jr.

Markelle Fultz is the peanut butter to Simmons' chocolate.

Dario Saric continues to be the all-purpose, tough, steadying presence while improving his jumper.

JJ Redick provides that sniper this team hasn’t seen in decades.

And Brett Brown can flat out coach.

In other words, all things work out perfectly. Add to that the Sixers' deep pocketbooks and payroll flexibility despite the need to take care of said core players. Plus, James and Simmons share representation. The two have even been tweeting at each other the last few days, and LeBron even wished Simmons a happy birthday.

Voila. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?

Wrong. At least for some Sixers fans.

Let me preface this by saying I am a believer in “The Process.” Have been from the start. But there seems to be a faction of Sixers fans or “Processors” who are against bringing in an established superstar of the ilk of LeBron James. Is this a linear thing? A championship can be achieved only by those core drafted pieces, by the nucleus of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz and Saric? Would LeBron somehow sully the purity of those Lake Hinkotonka waters? Would Sam disapprove? Would his brilliant mind somehow spontaneously combust in a Starbucks in Palo Alto with the news of adding a such an expensive and established piece? Do we really know what Hinkie’s vision at this point would be? Wasn’t this a key part of "The Process?" Clear cap space, and when the time is right, spend money with the big boys. Not bad money. Not Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah or Chandler Parsons.

We’re talking LeBron Freakin' James here.   

Is there not a need for someone with his skill set? Is it a chemistry thing? Clearly, that can’t be it. James is a chameleon, able to play any of four positions if needed. And while he may not be 25-year-old peak LeBron, he will still be great for a couple of years. And he has clearly proven that he can blend with talent around him.

Is it as simple as just good old fashion LeBron hate for “The Decision” or his perceived whininess? Golden State added Kevin Durant to an established, championship winning core that proved it could win without him. And that group was able to put egos aside. I’m confident the Sixers' young nucleus could do the same.

Are we really in a position in this town  — of any sports cities — to put parameters on how we get to the mountain top? Who cares how you get there so long as you get one — and hopefully more?  

Not me.