Well, that was certainly anti-climactic. After four dramatic contests, well-played on both sides, the villains in black--or white, as worn when in Miami--finally lived up to the hype Thursday night as the Heat ousted the Thunder, 121-106, to win the NBA Finals after winning the last four games of the series, but none as convincingly as the clincher.
League MVP LeBron James continued his sensational postseason run, capping the championship with a triple-double in Game 5 and the Finals MVP award while reshaping his image as a more gracious person as a champion than he was as a loser. Fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were outstanding in complementary roles, but surprisingly, hobbled veteran sharpshooter Mike Miller almost stole the show, knocking down his first five three-pointers en route to seven triples and 23 points.
After two seasons of critics questioning whether the Heat's role players had enough to push their star-studded trio over the top, the supporting cast delivered when it counted most. Mario Chalmers and respected veteran Shane Battier also had their moments in the spotlight, while even rookie point guard Norris Cole made an impact in limited minutes. Whether Miami simply caught lightning in a bottle--Bosh's return to health in the conference finals and playing tough and out of position at center, despite a game that leans more toward finesse than physical; outside shooting, a supposed Miami weakness, suddenly becoming a strength--or just found a winning formula is debatable, but either way, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra earned his stripes.
Under intense scrutiny with his boss, the legendary Pat Riley, supposedly ready to swoop in to take his job at any moment over the past two seasons, Spoelstra has certainly made his missteps, even in this very same postseason, but beyond the video-room narrative of his career, people forget that he managed to get a team featuring Wade and little else to the playoffs in back-to-back years before the advent of the "Big Three." That, as well as his more recent experiences, particularly last season's runner-up finish, counts for something, and it showed in the Finals, as he simply out-coached Thunder counterpart Scott Brooks in Thursday's laugher, the conclusion to an NBA campaign that almost didn't happen.
Speaking of Brooks--who, like Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, still doesn't have a contract extension--it's his turn to be under the microscope, albeit a less probing one. The postgame scene of superstar Kevin Durant crying in his mother's arms after Thursday's defeat was poignant, the series-changing Game 2 non-call of a James foul against Durant will be debated and All-Star sidekick Russell Westbrook's Game 4 43-point virtuoso performance will be remembered, but the inevitable offseason speculation will center on Brooks' adjustments or lack thereof, and therefore, whether he's the man to lead the young Thunder to the promised land.
That's unfortunate, as Oklahoma City's title-contending window is wide open--provided team general manager Sam Presti finds a way to keep both of his prized 22-year-olds (Westbrook and Durant are 23), league-leading shot-blocker Serge Ibaka and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who could have damaged his free-agent stock with his no-show of a series, around past next season. The squad appears to have such great chemistry on and off the court. That attribute is reminiscent of another Heat rival, the Bulls, who now have to regard both Finals participants as targets when Derrick Rose returns to full health--as various reports have stated, his recent Alabama trip is simply part of his rehabilitation process, which is going well, and is scheduled to feature a stint in his usual offseason training destination of Southern California later this summer--and whether moves are made this summer or the next, an upgraded supporting cast appears necessary for the franchise to host another parade on Michigan Avenue in the near future.
But now, in the brief window of time prior to next week's NBA Draft and the upcoming Olympics in London, is the Heat's time to bask in the glory. Although James and the team itself will still be regarded as villains in many circles, it's difficult for even their most ardent detractor to quibble with how they got their title and their prospects for winning more down the road.