|Date of game: 6/21/2012
Recap: Miami vs. Oklahoma City
Miami, FL (Sports Network) - LeBron James fist-bumped with his teammates and coaches. He hugged others, then watched the last three minutes from the bench, jumping up and down near the end with a smile that stretched ear-to-ear.
The poster boy for unrealized expectations finally has his first championship.
"It's about damn time," he said.
James scored 26 points and had a triple-double Thursday night and the Miami Heat rolled to a 121-106 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
James and the Heat overcame two years of pressure as the presumptive favorite to win the title in a lockout-shortened season, using a defining 19-1 run in the third quarter to all but put the game out of reach.
James, too, has his defining moment.
After taking so much criticism -- for "The Decision," for playing nearly a decade without winning a championship as one of the most heralded talents in sports history -- James played the role of hero in Game 4 despite battling cramps, and he kept his foot on the pedal all the way through Game 5.
But the Heat won as a team Thursday more than any other time in the playoffs, hitting 14 3-pointers to tie a Finals record, including seven by veteran bench player Mike Miller.
James had 13 assists and 11 rebounds and was a unanimous choice for Finals MVP to no one's surprise. Chris Bosh added 24 points and Dwyane Wade scored 20 as Miami won its fourth game in a row to seal the deal.
"So gratifying," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James is finally a champion after nine NBA seasons, including seven with the Cleveland Cavaliers before announcing in an ESPN special that he was "going to take my talents to South Beach" to play for the Heat.
He also famously said Miami would win "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" titles during a celebration thrown by the Heat after he and Bosh signed with the team that was criticized for being premature, if not wildly gaudy.
Now comes the real thing.
"Is it OK to have a party tonight!" Heat president Pat Riley called out during the on-court celebration at American Airlines Arena.
The Heat knocked off New York in five games, won three in a row to beat Indiana in six and survived Game 7 against battle-tested Boston to reach the Finals for the second year in a row.
They captured the title on their home court to avoid going back on the road for what could have been two more games in Oklahoma City, doing it largely with their big run in the third quarter.
Indeed, just as quickly as the Thunder seemed to wrest the momentum from Miami with an 18-6 burst spanning halftime, cutting a 17-point deficit to five, the Heat took it right back.
During the 19-1 run, Derek Fisher was called for a flagrant foul for doing little more than getting in the way to stop James on a fastbreak. James made the foul shots, Wade added a free throw after being fouled on an alley-oop attempt and the Heat pulled away.
Fittingly, the run was capped by back-to-back 3s from Bosh and Miller on the left side, pushing Miami's lead to 88-63. It was 95-71 going into the fourth and Miller knocked down two more 3s barely a minute into the last quarter to keep the rout moving along.
"It's everything (I imagined) and more," James said more than an hour after the game was over as he sat wearing a championship T-shirt and hat and sitting between his two newest trophies. "My dream has become a reality now."
The Thunder, since moving from Seattle in 2008, have spent the last several years as young and talented up-and-comers nipping at the heels of the West's old-money teams until showing them there was a new boss in the conference.
They swept the reigning-champion Mavericks, lost one game to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and beat the Spurs four times in the conference finals after San Antonio had won 20 in a row, including two against the Thunder.
But they couldn't get past their final hurdle.
"We ran into a team that was tough to beat," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "Unfortunately we didn't reach our goal of winning a championship but we put in a good effort."
With a core of Kevin Durant, the three-time reigning NBA scoring champion, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Thunder can surely make it back to the Finals. It might not even be the last time the teams meet for the title.
Durant poured in 32 points and had 11 rebounds to lead Oklahoma City while Westbrook and Harden both scored 19.
"It hurts, man. We're all brothers on this team and it just hurts to go out like this," said Durant. "We made it to the Finals, which is cool for us, but we didn't just want to make it."
Said Westbrook: "We have to remember this feeling."
The Heat improved to 2-1 in the NBA Finals and were the first champion to come out of the East since Boston in 2008. They lost three games in a row to Dallas last year after taking a 2-1 lead in the series. The Heat won a title with Wade and Shaquille O'Neal in 2006 after coming back from a 2-0 hole against the Mavs.
Opinions about James are almost certain to change -- from critics as well as defenders. Last year, he and Wade were criticized for mocking Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki's illness in the finals with fake coughs captured on video after a shootaround.
This year, James stepped up to make the go-ahead 3 late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's Game 4 despite going out with cramps in his legs minutes earlier that left him unable to walk off the court under his own power.
"We expected it to be a little easier. But we had to go through what we went through last year," admitted Wade, who said he watched Dallas' clinching Game 6 win from last year on Wednesday night and realized it was the Mavs' time to win.
"Tonight," he said, "it was our time."
James' teams are 1-2 in the NBA Finals (the Cavs were swept by San Antonio in 2007) but all the talk of him not living up to his potential was probably a little premature. It took him just two more seasons than Michael Jordan to win his first ring, and James is a year younger at 27.
When James captured his third MVP award last month, it was noted that he was the only one among the eight players with at least that many who had never won a title. Now that distinction is gone, too.
"I'm not one for giving guys credit during the series, but it's over. That guy is an incredible player," said Durant.
Miller went 4-for-4 on 3s in the first half, hitting the last one near the end of a 19-4 run in the second quarter. James capped it with a layup in transition to give the Heat a 17-point lead at 53-36. The Thunder, behind Durant, ended the half on a 13-6 run to get within 59-49 at halftime.
Earlier, James, Wade and Bosh scored 13 straight Heat points and the team made nine shots in a row, taking a 28-19 lead on Miller's back-to-back 3s in the first quarter.
Norris Cole hit a 3 for Miami moments later, but Durant's soaring one-handed baseline dunk over Udonis Haslem pulled the Thunder within 31-26 going into the second.
"They just took it to us," said Brooks. "They beat us. They beat us fair and square. They were the better team."
James said during the on-court celebration that nothing bothered him more than the perception he was a selfish player only out to do what's best for himself.
He stood, his shoulders a little lighter, clutching the MVP trophy named for Bill Russell, the 11-time champion who wasn't but a few feet away.
"This right here is the happiest day of my life. And I wouldn't want to spend it with anyone else in the world but my teammates and these fans," said James. "This is a dream come true."Game Notes
James notched his eighth career triple-double. It was the first triple-double in the Finals since James did it in Game 5 last year...It was the 14th time a player won the regular season and Finals MVP...Wade and Haslem are the only two players who were on both Heat championship teams. Spoelstra also won his second ring. He was a an assistant in 2006...Riley won his eighth ring...The Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic both made 14 3s during the 1995 NBA Finals...The Heat made 42 3s, the most ever in a five-game Finals...The Heat shot 51.9 percent and were 14-of-26 from beyond the arc, including Miller's 7- of-8...The Thunder shot 41.4 percent and went 11-of-28 from long range...The Heat scored 29 points off 13 OKC turnovers.