Three years, three appearances to the NBA Finals. All things considered, the "Big Three" experiment has been a rousing success for the Miami Heat. Coming off a thrilling Game 7 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to claim their second consecutive championship, it's not hard to wonder how the team tops such a brilliant effort.
For all of the talk of narratives and legacies, how they're made, broken and changed with each game, the group of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh has been incredibly successful. It's a testament to their greatness that losing to a special Spurs team would've been considered disappointing.
Imagine how many other athletes are held to such a high standard, where reaching the Finals in three straight years proves an afterthought to the subsequent failure once there. And yet, with that pressure mounting and the world penning a story of LeBron, the champion who wasn't, Miami did what it usually does.
The Heat won. Again. Because that's what great teams do.
With the second title, Miami's legacy has been re-defined -- not just by victory, but how it came about. Facing a truly great Spurs team, often on the brink of real collapse, the Heat never completely faltered. They were always a spark away from igniting, turning an arena of thousands into their own little playground.
Now that we've finally come full circle and realized LeBron is in fact a truly special basketball player, it's about time we reflect on exactly what's happened over the past three years. Here's a breakdown of Miami's three postseason runsand the team's evolution in time.
It's almost unthinkable, but this was probably the lowest point of James' career. Facing an older, less talented Dallas Mavericks team in the Finals, LeBron often looked utterly befuddled by the schemes and adjustments thrown out by coach Rick Carlisle during the six-game series.
In retrospect, it feels like so much of what James improved on in recent years stemmed from this failure. Facing a highly disciplined, experienced defense, LeBron often seemed tentative and it brought the entire Heat offense to halt. It's a criticism that sounds highly familiar, but in 2010 he failed to overcome it.
Key number: People don't as easily recall Miami's defensive struggles in the 2010 Finals, but they stand out after a dominant postseason run. Over the first 19 games of that postseason, the Heat allowed 88 points per game and only once did a team score 100-plus on them. In Games 5 and 6 of the Finals, Dallas averaged nearly 109 points to put away the series.
Performance to remember: It just has to be LeBron. On the biggest stage, with a chance to begin changing his image, James laid an egg of a series; 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists with four turnovers with per game ain't what the doctor ordered.
Finals point differential: Dallas, plus-14
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One year later, the Heat finally topped the mountain. While the road to the Finals was actually much more difficult this time around -- LeBron's legendary Game 6 effort against Boston may be his greatest single-game feat -- Miami looked much more prepared to face Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City.
Seasoned by another year of experience and motivated by the failures of 2011, the Heat came out in the 2012 Finals with a vengeance. After dropping the first game on the road, 105-94, the remainder of the series was a clinic on how Miami can overwhelm opponents.
Staying committed with a degree of stubbornness, the Thunder tried to play bigger and stronger than Miami. The Heat responded by shooting OKC out of the arena on multiple occasions. Compared to a year before, this was a much-improved team, one better aware of how to utilize its many weapons.
Key number: James' free-throw attempts. After going just 12 of 20 from the charity stripe in the Finals against Dallas, James went 38 of 46 in five games against OKC. Ignoring the improvement in efficiency, he improved his number of per-game attempts from 3.3 to 9.2 -- a major reflection on his increased aggression in this series.
Performance to remember: The big shooting of Mike Miller and Shane Battier, who hit a combined 59 percent of their three-point attempts against OKC. Between Battier's hot shooting in the early going and Miller's epic 23-point performance in Game 5, the Heat's floor-spacers did exactly what was needed to free things up for LeBron and Wade.
Finals point differential: Miami, plus-20
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First-round: 4-0 over the Bucks
Semifinals: 4-1 over the Bulls
East Finals: 4-3 over the Pacers
NBA Finals: 4-3 over the Spurs
This was not easy for the Heat. After breezing through the Bucks in the first round, they faced stiff tests in the next three rounds before finally winning their second straight championship.
A tough five-game series with the Derrick Rose-less Bulls came first, with Chicago winning Game 1 and challenging in Games 3 and 5. Then, an air-tight series with the up-and-coming Pacers challenged Miami's resolve. The Heat needed a James buzzer-beating layup to win Game 1, then dropped Game 2 at home before alternating wins and losses until a blowout Game 7 victory.
Then, the Finals against the Spurs happened happened. The Heat dropped Game 1 after a miracle Tony Parker shot sealed the game, then got blown out in Game 3 to fall behind, 2-1. A Game 4 win restored some order, but an easy Game 5 victory restored doubts. That put Miami in a do-or-die scenario in Game 6, which they escaped by the slimmest of margins. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter and five in the final 30 seconds, the Heat somehow rallied, tying the game on a Ray Allen buzzer beater and winning in overtime. That left Game 7, which the Heat won after outlasting yet another Spurs push.
Key number: Five, as in the number of three-pointers LeBron James made in Game 7. The Spurs begged him to shoot that shot and he obliged, successfully, after seeing his jump shot elude him in Games 1-6.
Performance to remember: Thirty-seven points and 12 rebounds in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Who else could it be other than LeBron?
Finals point differential: The Spurs actually outscored the Heat by five points in the series despite losing.