Spurs can't beat Heat, Game 7 up next
Heat forward LeBron James goes to the basket past San Antonio Spurs’ Danny Green in Miami last night. Game 7 goes Thursday night. (Reuters)
The champs aren’t dead yet.
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen stepped up for Miami in the clutch, overcoming a sublime performance by the seemingly ageless Tim Duncan, as the Heat forced a Game 7 of the NBA Finals with a thrilling 103-100 overtime victory Tuesday.
Allen hit a miracle three in the dying seconds and the Spurs couldn’t convert at the other end forcing extra time.
Kawhi Leonard had left the door open, with a missed free throw following a clutch James three with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
“That right there was luck shining on my side,” Allen said.
In overtime, things got ugly at the end, but James and Allen hit jumpers and Bosh made two key blocks, to hold off the Spurs in a classic.
James finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. He had just three made buckets on 12 attempts at the half.
“It was by far the best game I’ve been a part of,” James said.
“Both teams had the will to win. We just made one more play.”
Meanwhile, Duncan flashed back to his league MVP days in a first half clinic and the Spurs nearly completed a historic upset of the Heat, for the fifth championship in franchise history.
That will have to wait. Perhaps forever.
Duncan carved up Bosh and the Heat for 25 first-half points and Tony Parker arrived to save the day late, nearly snuffing out a James-led fourth quarter comeback.
Parker hit a huge step-back three, Mario Chalmers, superb until then, turned it over and another Parker circus shot gave the Spurs a seemingly comfortable lead with 58 seconds remaining.
Duncan made it clear that he wasn’t ready to pass the torch yet, but after three AWOL quarters, James arrived and tried to force the issue.
“He found a way to put his team over the top,” said Duncan, who nearly did the same.
A summer of endless James-bashing was on tap – until – it wasn’t.
Instead, the Spurs were left cursing basketball fate.
“We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go,” said Manu Ginobili, brutal in a career-worst eight turnover effort.
“I have no clue how we’re going to be re-energized. I’m devastated.
“We didn’t think we played a great game, but we were in a great situation.”
Indeed, officials were roping off the courtside area, preparing to bring out the Larry O’Brien championship trophy prior to James’ three. Miami noticed and got angry.
Before that, trailing by 10 points with the season on the line the four-time MVP had placed his teammates atop his broad shoulders in a quarter for the ages.
James got free for a huge two-handed slam in the fourth and followed with a put-back slam soon after. That was the warning shot.
Next, he went into the post, bullying anyone up against him.
The topper was still to follow. With Duncan in the midst of his best game in five seasons, James swatted a layup attempt away and then scored on Duncan at the other end with about half a quarter remaining.
Finally, he went right around his latest nemesis, Boris Diaw, for a sweeping layup, electrifying the packed arena’s white t-shirt-clad fans, who would later shamelessly leave early, thinking the Spurs had won.
Duncan, considered the greatest power forward of all time, had made it clear before these Finals that he considered this perhaps his last shot at a fifth NBA title. He said this was his most important Finals.
On Tuesday, he played like he meant it. Duncan nailed his first eight shots from the field and had 25 points at the half, more than he had scored in any other game in the series and his best 24 minutes since 2006.
The performance was the key to San Antonio’s torrid 58.3% shooting through two. Miami shot just 41.5%, but only trailed by six because of eight offensive rebounds and eight forced turnovers.
It was vintage Duncan, with the big man putting on a familiar low post clinic, mostly at the expense of Bosh (Duncan shot 9-for-9 against him in the half).
Miami has been at its best in these playoffs (10-0) when outscoring opponents in the paint, but the Spurs had close to a 30-point edge there through three.
Until James switched things up.
While Duncan was all business on the block, James eschewed that role early, for his oft-criticized facilitator mode. James had only three baskets against seven assists deep into the third quarter.
As has been the case throughout this series, one team went on a big run in the third quarter.
Once again, that team was the Spurs.
Still, the defending champs wouldn’t just go away and held the Spurs to 36% shooting in the third quarter, setting up James’ changed mindset and reappearance.
Duncan and the Spurs want another ring as much as Miami does – maybe more considering Duncan is winding down his spectacular career – but James showed he isn’t about to hand the league back to the old man.
“The best team will be crowned Thursday,” James said.
But the Heat has a big edge – two if you count James as an edge, as you should - home teams are 14-3 in NBA Finals Game 7s and a visitor hasn’t prevailed since 1978.