Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After a poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball brought together the Redeem Team in 2008 and won it all. Last year, the Miami Heat, LeBron James specifically, played horribly and lost the NBA Finals.
What a difference a year makes.
LeBron and the Heat stand just one victory away from completing their single goal this season of a NBA championship. For LeBron, if he can will the Heat to that last victory, it will go a long way towards repairing his 2011 NBA Finals performance.
In the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron disappeared and the Heat lost three straight games to the Dallas Mavericks and watched Dallas lift the Larry O’Brien trophy as champions on the Heat’s home court. That impression put a fire in LeBron to make sure everyone understood it was the Heat’s turn in 2012.
LeBron won the NBA MVP award in 2012 and his play in the NBA Playoffs has been nothing short of spectacular. James is averaging 30.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game in the playoffs. It’s a stat line that evokes the names of Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest NBA player ever.
The big knock against LeBron last year was that he was not clutch. ESPN perpetuated the claim and defined the time of clutch as being the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within 5 points.
Last year in the NBA Finals, LeBron played 18 such minutes and was 0-7 from the field and scored a total of 0 points, according to ESPN. In the 2012 NBA Finals, under the same circumstances, LeBron has played a total of 11 minutes, scored 14 points on 4-7 shooting and is 5-6 from the free throw line.
Overall in the playoffs, LeBron is the first player in NBA history with at least 650 points, 200 rebounds, and 100 assists in a single postseason this year, according to ESPN.
“I see LeBron James, the best and most dominant player in the game,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade. “It’s good to have that.”
But unlike last year when the Big Three had to carry the complete load for the Heat, the team has come to play in the 2012 Finals.
The series started out with Miami desperately needing one of the role players to step up their offensive game to match the Thunder’s prolific offense. Shane Battier answered the call early and helped carry the Heat’s offense, especially from behind the 3-point line in Games 1-3.
Then in Game 4, Battier went cold from the field and managed just four points in the game. So the Heat once again needed help and in stepped point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.
The point guard duo combined to score 33 points and both hit big shots in the first and second half to keep the Heat either ahead or spark a run to catch up with the Thunder.
If the Heat can win a title, it will also be redemption of sorts for head coach Erik Spoelstra. He’s been under the microscope ever since the Big Three of Wade, Bosh, and James joined forces in Miami. Last year, he shouldered the blame for the Heat’s loss in the NBA Finals.
Even with the Heat making their run through the Eastern Conference playoffs, there were fans calling for his head if the Heat lost to either the Indiana Pacers or the Boston Celtics. Spoelstra stuck to his game plan and even had to adapt it when Chris Bosh was lost for several weeks.
But before any redemption can happen, the Heat has to take care of business in Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We’re not leaving anything in the locker room,” said Spoelstra. “We need to really get ready for probably the toughest game of the series.”
The good news for Miami is that after a scare during Game 4, LeBron was actually just cramping and not injured. Since then, LeBron has been able to practice and said he’s ready for Game 5.
“My approach won’t change and it won’t be difficult,” James said. “I have a job to do and it is not done. I will make sure my guys are ready for Game 5. The greatest teacher you can have in life is experience. I’m just happy to be in this position today.”
For the man proclaimed King and the entire Miami Heat team, redemption stands just 48 minutes away starting at 9 p.m. Thursday night.