LeBron James feels the Heat as Spurs clinch series

James may have been outstanding but the best team over the NBA series was undeniably the San Antonio Spurs

Miami Heat players Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James sit on the bench in the final minutes of their loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Photograph: Mike Stone/Reuters

Miami Heat players Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James sit on the bench in the final minutes of their loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Photograph: Mike Stone/Reuters

 

LeBron James sat on a trainer’s table an hour before tipoff, his eyes closed, his headphones on as he sang to himself, his back rested squarely against a wall.

As James’ relaxed state of repose might have suggested, he was not as uncomfortable as one might expect ahead of a must-win Game 5 for the Miami Heat against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night.

The Heat had won back-to-back championships because in moments when his team needed him most, James was at his best. He no longer sagged under the weight of expectations. He now often exceeded them.

So, it was no surprise when James said beforehand that he would seize Sunday’s game.

And so he did. James dunked, defended, rebounded, knocked down 3-pointers, swatted away shots and carried the Heat to an early 16-point lead.

The heavy lifting done, James waited for help. But it never arrived, and the Spurs soon turned the game into a rout on their way to a 104-87 victory and their fifth championship in 16 seasons.

Dwyane Wade continued to look old and creaky. Chris Bosh, who earlier in the day promised a victory, came up empty on all accounts. And Ray Allen, thrust into the starting lineup for the slumping Mario Chalmers, made only one shot.

James had a game-high 31 points, to go with 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks, and he helped limit Tony Parker to one basket through three quarters.

But it was not nearly enough for him to stop the Spurs on his own.

“They were the much better team,” James said. “That’s how team basketball should be played. You know, it’s selfless. Guys move, cut, pass; you’ve got a shot, you take it. But it’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s the brand of basketball and that’s how team basketball should be played.”

Such a compliment, but like any of James’ words, it will be parsed, dissected and interpreted in the coming weeks, as signs of his intentions to remain in Miami or opt out of his contract and test the free-agent market this off-season.

Wade and Bosh are also in the same position, and there has been speculation that the three would take pay cuts so the Heat could add the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, who has the same opt-out in his contract, to the mix.

Houston forward Chandler Parsons offered another option, and opinion, when he said on Friday that said he thought James would leave Miami - perhaps to head back to Cleveland.

“I will deal with my summer when I get to that point,” James said. “Me and my team will sit down and deal with it. I love Miami. My family loves it. But obviously right now that’s not even what I’m thinking about. You guys are trying to find answers. I’m not going to give you one.”

Bosh and Wade did not provide any answers, either. Bosh, who made the go-ahead three-pointer in Game 2, missed his last nine shots from behind the arc on Sunday.

Wade, who missed 28 games this season to rest his chronically sore knees, was seven of 25 shots combined over the last two games. Their ineffectiveness was neatly wrapped in a handful of plays, the type that might best express a will to win.

After Manu Ginobili dunked over Bosh to bring to life a stunned arena, Wade tried to return the favor. But Tiago Splitter interfered with the plan and blocked Wades’ dunk attempt.

A last gasp by the Heat ended fittingly enough, when Wade and Bosh bungled an alley-oop that would have closed the gap to 16 points with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left. The Spurs grabbed the rebound and Tony Parker raced to the other end for a layup.

“They dominated us,” Bosh said. “They took two games on our home court by 20 points apiece. They beat us by 20 tonight. It hasn’t been much of a series, not even close. They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.”

Wade sounded almost wistful as he sat next to James at the postgame news conference, reflecting on the four seasons they have spent as teammates, which included an awkward beginning, two championships and the continual turn in the spotlight.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we decided to become teammates years ago,” Wade said. “We just knew that we felt as individuals that we could do it, that we could put our egos to the side and not care about the individual part of the game.”

If the Heat’s Big 3 decide to stay together, if Wade is not on a severe down slope at the age of 32, and if the Heat’s defence has not been exposed with Bosh at centre, then they will at least need more help. Shane Battier is retiring, and perhaps Ray Allen as well.

The Spurs, among other things, displayed the importance of developing a deep bench with complementary parts. This time it was not the weight of expectations that hurt James so much as him having to carrying a team by himself. New York Times Service

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