The Heat were on the ropes. The Spurs knew it. The Heat knew it. The fans knew it.
The coronation seemed to begin as fans filed for the exits losingh ope with Miami down 10 points entering the fourth quarter and then even down five points with 30 seconds to play.
It was Rudy Tomjanovich who said "Don't ever question the heart of a champion," after his sixth-seeded defending champion Rockets swept through the 1995 Finals. The Heat are champions until someone dethrones them, and it will clearly take 48 -- sometimes 53 -- minutes to do that.
San Antonio has the championship experience, but they are not the champs.
The Spurs saw their lead crumble behind LeBron James' 16-point third quarter. He committed a couple key turnovers that led to Tony Parker run outs that gave the Heat a five-point lead late. Then two offensive rebound opportunities for Miami, capped off with Ray Allen hitting a 3-pointer with five seconds left to force overtime.
Chris Bosh was the hero with the offensive rebound which led to Allen's game-tying 3-pointer. He would be the hero again as Manu Ginobili turnovers put Miami up three with one second left. A hard screen from Tiago Splitter freed up Danny Green to the far corner. Bosh met him and recorded the block.
Game Seven is on its way to Miami on Thursday night as the Heat staved off elimination with a 103-100 win over the Spurs at American Airlines Arena on Tuesday.
There were so many performances to note in this game.
Tim Duncan scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half, adding 17 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard had 22 points, but missed a cirtical free throw late in the fourth quarter that would have made it a four-point lead before Allen's 3-pointer. Manu Ginobili had nine points, but contributed eight of San Antonio's 13 turnovers in the game.
There was none bigger than the turnover he made while trying to force a foul with San Antonio down one and about two seconds to play.
LeBron James had 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He scored most of that in the fourth quarter when the Heat needed him to step up and be a little bit selfish. James returned to his distributor role perhaps a bit too much down the stretch. Miami was able to survive that thanks to some timely play from others.
They certainly sensed in that fourth quarter that the season was on the line. James certainly did and he put the team on his shoulders and played with LeBron brilliance in attacking the basket aggressively and flying around defensively -- even blocking one of Tim Duncan's shots at the rim.
Mario Chalmers woke up from his slumber, turning in his best game since Miami's Game Two win with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Chris Bosh had 10 points, but his 11 rebounds proved to be big.
So too did the 3-pointer. San Antonio did not hit them -- 5 for 18 -- and Miami did -- 11 for 19. That is a simple way to make up for a lot of points. And it was also something the Spurs had relied heavily on throughout this series. It was not there for them at the end.
It was not a perfect puzzle for either team. What has been fascinating about this series is how each team has continually found weaknesses to exploit and adjust to. There is a reason no team has won back-to-back games in this series. For Miami to win, it will have to be the first on Thursday night.
Now, with the coaches changes just about exhausted, it comes down to the players executing and putting it all on the line. It took perhaps a bit too long, but it was not too late for LeBron James and the Heat to do that.
They stared oblivion in the face and saw elimination squarely in front of them.
In response, they did what champions do. They fought back.
Both teams are worthy of the crown. Now, they have 48 minutes to decide this thing.
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