LeBron James, despite some miserable late-game moments, led an NBA title-saving charge, and now his crown will be on the line one more time in Game 7 Thursday in Miami.
James led the Heat to a frantic fourth-quarter rally and overtime escape as the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 103-100 on Tuesday night to extend the NBA Finals as far as they can go and keep Miami’s repeat chances alive.
Losing his headband but keeping his cool while playing the entire second half and overtime, James finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, making the go-ahead basket with 1:43 remaining in the extra period.
”If we were going to go down tonight, we’re going to go down with me leaving every little bit of energy that I had on the floor,” James said.
Tim Duncan scored 30 points for the Spurs, his most in an NBA Finals game since Game 1 in 2003, but was shut out after the third quarter. He added 17 rebounds.
Game 7 will be here Thursday, the NBA’s first do-or-die game to determine its champion since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2010.
”They’re the best two words in sports: Game 7,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
And two the Spurs were oh-so-close to avoiding.
They looked headed to a fifth title in five chances when they built a 13-point lead with under 4 minutes left in the third quarter, then grabbed a five-point edge late in regulation after blowing the lead.
But James hit a 3-pointer and Ray Allen tied it with another. Just 5.2 seconds remained in regulation. The Heat were that close to the edge.
”It’s a tough moment. We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go,” Spurs veteran Manu Ginobilli, who was awful the entire game, but especially so in key late-game moments. ”A couple rebounds we didn’t catch, a tough 3 by Ray and a couple missed free throws. It’s a very tough moment.”
James was just 3 of 12 after three quarters, the Heat trailing by 10 and frustration apparent among the players and panic setting in among the fans.
Nothing to worry. Not with James playing like this.
He finished 11 of 26, even making a steal after his basket had given Miami a 101-100 edge in the OT.
Before that, he was 12 minutes from hearing the familiar criticisms about not being able to get it done, from having to watch a team celebrate on his home floor again.
Then he changed the game and erased that story.
The Heat, who haven’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 8 and 10, had too much defense and way too much James for the Spurs in the final 17 minutes. They are trying to become fourth team to win the final two games at home since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the finals in 1985.