MANILA, Philippines – Miami Heat tactician Erik Spoelstra said the hard work and the sacrifices that they poured in this season made their National Basketball Association (NBA) title win over Oklahoma City even sweeter.
Spoelstra, the first Filipino-American basketball coach to steer an NBA squad to a title, said his team endured a lot especially after losing their title duel against Dallas Mavericks last season.
"I got a lot more gray hairs but this one is so gratifying," he said.
"We kept saying all year long it would be the toughest thing we'd have to do in our professional lives to get back to here and finally get those four wins," Spoelstra added.
The Miami Heat closed out the title series against the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in Game 5, thanks to a balanced attack and 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds from superstar LeBron James.
The team had to battle criticisms since assembling the on-court triumvirate of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James in 2010.
Most of the negative attention was directed at James, who left the Cleveland Cavaliers in search for an NBA title.
The Heat got the chance to win the title in 2011 when it faced the Mavericks in the Finals.
But it wasn't meant to be. Dallas won the 2011 NBA title by beating Miami 4 games to 2.
The following season, the Heat worked even harder than before.
Spoelstra said they found solace and self-assurance in each of their victories on the way to their title-duel against Oklahoma.
"We knew we had the confidence in what we could do but it would be a long season and it would be a tough road,” said the 41-year-old coach.
9 years in the making
This was James's third trip to the NBA Finals, including one with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but his first title in his 9 years in the NBA.
"This is a dream come true," said the 27-year-old James, who had no repeat of the painful leg cramps he suffered during Tuesday's game 4.
"I picked up a basketball when I was 9 years old. This is the hardest thing I have ever done."
Miami used impressive 3-point shooting, hitting 14-of-26 from beyond the arc, in front of a sold-out 20,003 crowd at American Airlines Arena.
The Heat also shot 58 percent from the field in the first quarter and never eased up on the Thunder, opening a huge lead with a explosive third quarter, outscoring Oklahoma City 36-22.
Six Heat players, including all 5 starters, finished in double figures.
The Thunder's 3-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 32 points and 11 rebounds while guard Russell Westbrook had 19 points and 6 assists.
But Oklahoma failed to recover from losing 3 games in a row by close margins after opening the finals with a win at home.
"It always comes down to game two. We had a bad start. We fought back. Got down to the last possession," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. – With Agence France-Presse