MIAMI — Now that he’s a multiple champion, one might figure the criticism of LeBron James will subside.
But perhaps he doesn’t want that to happen.
“Please continue to motivate me,’’ the Miami Heat star said to media members as he walked into the offseason clutching his second second straight Bill Russell Finals MVP Award. “I need you guys.’’
James has gotten quite used to the weight of the world being on his shoulders. He’s also become very adept at responding when it is.
Thursday was another such day. With questions swirling about whether James’ legacy might be damaged by a third NBA Finals loss or if the Heat’s Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh soon could be broken up, all James did was score 37 points and grab 12 rebounds as Miami defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in the decisive Game 7 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Spurs put on a valiant effort in seeking their fifth title in 15 years. But it might have been two dynasties passing in the night, their former one and one the Heat are starting to put together with their second championship in a row.
James is showing no signs of slowing down as the Big Three continues to morph into a Big One. After struggling at times with his outside shooting in the series, James on Thursday made the most 3-pointers he ever has in a Finals game, going 5 of 10. When James was asked if he’s unstoppable when his shot is clicking like that, he said, “Yeah, I am. You said it.’’
James, though, needs at least a little bit of help to win titles. And he got it in Game 7 from the gritty Wade, who scored 23 points while playing on bad knees, and forward Shane Battier, who bounced back from a recent horrific slump to shoot 6 of 8 from 3-point range for 18 points.
But if James didn’t have the game he did, the Heat wouldn’t have won. The Spurs were within two points in the final two minutes before forward Kawhi Leonard, who had 19 points and 16 rebounds, clanged a 3-pointer, and Tim Duncan, who had a team-high 24 points, missed a pair of inside shots.
“He saved the best performance for last,’’ Miami guard Mario Chalmers said of James. “That’s what great players do. He pretty much has no weaknesses. He’s an unstoppable player.’’
James’ drilled a 19-foot jumper with 27.9 seconds left that gave the Heat a safe 92-88 lead. Then he hit a pair of free throws with 23.5 seconds remaining for a 94-88 lead, and soon it was time to celebrate.
“The vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true,’’ James said. “We’ve been able to persevere and to win back-to-back championships. It’s an unbelievable feeling.
“Last year, when I was sitting up here, with my first championship, I said it was the toughest thing I had ever done. This year I’ll tell last year he’s absolutely wrong. This was the toughest championship right here between the two. I mean, everything we been through this postseason, especially in these Finals. … We were scratching for our lives in Game 6, down five with 28 seconds to go.’’
Two days earlier, the Heat indeed were on life support. But they somehow pulled out a 103-100 overtime win.
Guard Manu Ginobili spent plenty of time after Game 7 lamenting how his Spurs had blown Game 6. He knows that you don’t give a guy like James another chance.
“That’s what happens when you play against the greatest player in the world,’’ Ginobili said. “That why you go back to Game 6, when we had everything under control.’’
San Antonio’s plan Thursday was to try to blitz James. It worked in the first quarter, when James shot just 1 of 4, but it didn’t last.
James had entered Thursday shooting just 43.3 percent, including 29.2 percent from 3-point range (7 of 24), in the first six games of the Finals. But he had broken down film and knew what was needed to get going.
“I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game,’’ said James, who shot 12 of 23 overall in Game 7. “I shot a career high from the 3-point line. I just told myself why. ‘Don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under. Don’t force the paint. If it’s there, take it. If not, take the jumper.’ ’’
James finished the series with averages of 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists in becoming the fifth player to win consecutive Finals MVP trophies. He got a big hug after the game from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Many NBA players took to Twitter to give kudos to the King. Denver’s Andre Iguodala wrote, “If you still hate Lebron you really need a life coach and I’ll sponsor you.’’
Then again, it’s still June.
“He’ll get a lot less this summer,’’ Wade said of criticism. “When the season starts up again next year, it’s on again.’’
That’s the world we live in these days even if it always seems it should be LeBron’s world.
“We live in the world of immediate blame and immediate praise, and they’re always going to take a shot at the guy at the top of the mountain,’’ Heat president Pat Riley said. “LeBron is the greatest player in the world.’’
After the game, ABC analyst Magic Johnson told James on the air he could end up as the greatest player ever. But James might not want to hear that much.
He’s going to need some motivation for next season.