LeBron James left behind the hate and went back to playing basketball with “love and dedication.” The result was his first National Basketball Association championship.
James scored 26 points and the Miami Heat tied an NBA Finals record with 14 3-pointers in a 121-106 defeat of the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder to clinch their first title since 2006 in a series upset.
James, chosen the Most Valuable Player in the Finals, also had 13 assists and 11 rebounds. Mike Miller added 23 points, including seven 3-pointers, as Miami won the best-of-seven series four games to one a year after losing to Dallas in the Finals in James’s first year with the Heat.
“I know what got me to this point: hard work and dedication,” James said during the trophy ceremony. “Last year I played with a lot of hate. I play this game with love and dedication.”
It has been almost two years since James, 27, walked away from his home-state team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a made- for-television announcement ridiculed by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. James, who signed a six-year, $110 million deal with Miami, promised 13,000 fans at AmericanAirlines Arena that the Heat would win multiple championships.
James and the Heat started the series as underdogs. Before the Finals began, betting lines in Las Vegas favored the Thunder, giving Oklahoma City a 61 percent chance of winning, according to Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com. A $100 bet on the Heat -- which had a 39 percent chance of winning -- returned $145 plus the initial stake.
The title comes one year after James was criticized for his performance in the Finals when the Heat lost the last three games to the Mavericks. James was held to eight points on 3-of- 11 shooting in the pivotal Game 4 of that series, his lowest scoring output in more than five years.
“It’s about damn time,” James said last night.
James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who also moved to Miami as a free agent, on the Heat roster two years ago.
“We came here to win a championship and we got it done,” Bosh said.
Heat President Pat Riley, 67, won his sixth NBA title. He coached the 1980s “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers to four titles and added another in 2006 as Miami’s coach.
“It’s one of the hardest things they’ll ever have to do,” Riley said.
Coach Erik Spoelstra, who was an assistant when the Heat won the 2006 title, said this time it meant “more pressure, a lot more gray hairs, but this one was more gratifying. Thank you for your patience. We remember last year.”
Las Vegas-based handicapping information service Pregame.com installed the Heat and Thunder as 3-1 joint favorites to win the 2013 NBA Finals, with the Chicago Bulls at 5-1 and San Antonio Spurs a 7-1 chance. The New York Knicks are 60-1.
Miami rallied after falling behind in each of its last three series in this year’s playoffs. After eliminating the New York Knicks by four games to one in the first round, the Heat had to come back from deficits in best-of-seven series against the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City.
Against Indiana, the Heat trailed two games to one before James had 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in a Game 4 win. Miami won the following two games as well.
In the Eastern Conference finals, Miami trailed 3-2 against the Celtics before winning at Boston to force a decisive seventh game that the Heat won at home.
The Thunder won the first game of the NBA Finals before the Heat captured four straight for the championship. In Game 4 two nights ago, James hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with less than three minutes remaining despite being hobbled by leg cramps.
James, who shares a Dec. 30 birthday with Tiger Woods, is a three-time league Most Valuable Player. He also led the Cavaliers in 2007 to the NBA Finals, where they were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Heat built a 10-point halftime margin into a 95-71 lead entering the fourth period last night. Miller came off the bench to hit all four of his 3-point attempts in the opening two periods and Miami used a 19-4 run to take a 59-49 halftime lead at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 32 points and Russell Westbrook added 19.
“When you play against the best, you learn,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You hate to go home and not win the whole thing. We lost to a team that played better than us in four of the five games.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Kercheval in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com