MIAMI, Fla. —The celebration began in the third quarter when a relentless and determined Miami Heat pounded the Oklahoma City Thunder in every aspect of the game.
Finally, with three minutes remaining in a convincing 121-106 victory Thursday, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were able to join in, leaving the court together to a deafening ovation from the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd and hugging every coach and teammate in their path.
Two years after James and Chris Bosh joined Wade, giving Miami the most celebrated and storied trio of stars in the game, the Heat are world champions, disposing of the Thunder in five games.
"We came here to win a championship and we got it done," Bosh said.
The title is the second in the Heat's 24-year history and validates President Pat Riley's plan that started with James' announcement he was "taking his talents to South Beach" and an awkward celebration that turned the entire country against the Heat because of its arrogance.
The Heat became the villain and the nation rejoiced when its first attempt to win a title fell short, losing in six games to the Mavericks in last season's final. But that failure drove the Heat through the summer, a season shortened because of a lockout, and finally into the playoffs, in which the Heat fell behind in each of its final three series, including 3-2 to the Celtics, before winning in Boston and advancing with a victory in Game 7.
Miami is the first team to win a title after trailing in three series.
"We remember last year we wanted to make up for it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We kept saying all year long it would be the toughest thing we would have to do in our lives to get back here and get those four wins."
After losing Game 1 in Oklahoma City, Miami won four in a row while handing the Thunder its longest losing streak of the season, including three straight at home. The Heat shot 52 percent in the clincher, including 14-of-26 on three-pointers.
And despite having three All-Stars, despite a roster in which just Wade and Udonis Haslem had championship rings, this title will be the coronation of King James.
Nobody endured the taunts like James, who took the reign from Wade this season and became the undisputed leader of this team. James carried the Heat into and throughout the playoff, finishing with a triple-double of 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 5, cementing his first Finals MVP award to go along with his three regular season MVP trophies.
"This is a dream come true for me," James said.
Some of the loudest cheers of the night came when Bill Russell presented James with the MVP trophy. Those cheers then turned into MVP chants.
"I was happy I was able to make enough plays to put ourselves in a position to win a championship," James said. "This is one of the happiest days of my life."
James spent the last two minutes of the game jumping and hugging and shouting and letting go of a career's worth of frustration.
Yet, despite James' brilliance, this game was as much a team effort as any for the Heat in this long playoff run. Miami received key contributions from several players, but none more surprising than Mike Miller's 23 points in 23 minutes.
Miller, who entered Game 5 having taken five shots in the series (including 0-for-3 on three-pointers), was 7-for-8 from behind the arc.
Bosh had his best game of the series with 24 points and seven rebounds. Wade chipped in with 20 points. Shane Battier added 11 and Mario Chalmers 10.
"Winning the championship in 2006 was amazing but I didn't go through nothing yet," Wade said. "Six years after that I've been through a lot in my personal life and I've been through a lot in my professional life and this means so much more."
For the Thunder, the game was a snapshot of the entire Finals. Kevin Durant (32 points) and Michael Westbrook (19 points) had no help. Both came out with just under five minutes remaining.
"There is no question we didn't play well tonight," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "You got to give Miami credit. They really played an intimidating brand of basketball tonight.
"They were here last year. They had a bad taste in their mouths, no question."
The Heat broke open the game in the third quarter. The Thunder had cut a 10-point halftime lead to five before Miami became relentless on defense and unconscious on offense, building the lead to 26 points.
From there, it was just a matter of counting down the minutes until the confetti would be dropped and the trophy presented to owner Micky Arison, Riley and Spoelstra.
The Heat was able to build an early nine-point lead after making nine consecutive shots but Oklahoma City stayed close until midway through the second quarter when it started looking dazed and like a beaten
Miami went on a 13-2 run, sparked by hustle plays like Wade diving for a loose ball and inexplicably being called for a foul and Bosh blocking a Kendrick Perkins dunk attempt.
Outside of three-point shots by Chalmers and Miller, the Heat reestablished the paint, building a lead that peaked at 17 before Miami settled for a 59-49 lead at the half.
While James was scoring 15 and shooting 6-for-9, Durant had 14 on 6-for-14 shooting. But the Thunder stayed in the game by getting to the free-throw line 18 times and making all but one.