USA TODAY MIAMI — For three quarters, it was not LeBron James' finest night.
The Miami Heat superstar entered Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs averaging 31.5 points, 10 rebounds and 6.4 assists in 11 elimination games. But entering the fourth quarter Tuesday night, James had missed nine of 12 shots, and the Heat trailed by 10 points.
With Miami's season on the line and another premature referendum on James' legacy up for discussion, James delivered with 16-fourth quarter points and two in overtime, leading the Heat to a 103-100 victory -- it was a classic -- and forcing one more game.
"I had a couple turnovers, couple mistakes," James said afterward. "I can live with those mistakes knowing I gave my all tonight. Live to see another day."
James and Ray Allen hit consecutive threes in the final 20.3 seconds of the fourth quarter, tying the score at 95-95 and producing the first overtime game of the series. Allen's game-tying three was made possible when San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard made 1 of 2 free throws with 19.4 seconds left.
James' basket with 1:01 left in overtime put Miami ahead 101-100, and Allen made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left, making it 103-100.
"Until time runs out we have an opportunity to win this game," Allen said.
Chris Bosh came out with two outstanding defensive plays, blocking a Tony Parker jumper with 32.2 seconds left and Danny Green's three-point attempt as time expired in overtime.
"I knew they were going to run something for a three-point shooter," Bosh said of the final play. "I just didn't know where. I was looking at Tim Duncan's eyes the whole time. Tiago (Splitter) set a pretty good screen on Ray, and I just followed the flight of the ball. With 1.9 seconds, there's not much you can do. I saw the ball the ball the whole time, and I was able to make a play."
"One game, that's it," said Allen, who played in the 2010 Finals' Game 7 with the Boston Celtics. "We gotta go out here and do our best and leave it out on the floor."
James finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists and kept Miami's hopes alive for a second consecutive NBA championship. It was his 11th playoff triple-double and his fourth Finals triple-double, including his second this series. Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Wes Unseld, Jerry West and Bill Russell are the only other players with a triple-double in an elimination game.
"This is by far the best game I've ever been associated with," James said. "I"m happy about the way we dug down and was able to get a win that didn't look like we could muster up at some point during the game."
The pattern of lopsided results ended — the past four games had been determined by more than 10 points — but the trend of win-loss, win-loss extended. No team has won consecutive games in this series, and the Heat will have to do so in order to win a second championship in a row.
"If you said September 29th when we started our trip going to China if we could decide this season with a Game 7 in our building, every single one of us take it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You know, they're the two words in team sports: Game 7."
History is working for and against both teams. In their previous four championships, the Spurs have never trailed (advantage San Antonio). But no team has won the final two games of a Finals series on the road since the advent of the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985 (advantage Miami).
"You can't win a game with a statistic," Spoelstra said earlier in the series. "You've got to win it on the court."
That's what the Heat did in Game 6, preventing back-to-back losses for the first time since early January. For a long stretch, the Spurs were headed to their fifth NBA title in 15 seasons.
Tim Duncan scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half, and the Spurs led 75-65 at the end of the third quarter.
James came to life just in time, leading the Heat on a 20-7 run in the first six minutes, 32 seconds of the fourth quarter. James scored 11 of those points, and the Heat led 85-82 with 5:28 remaining.
But the Spurs, especially Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Coach Gregg Popovich, have been in these situations too many times to wilt. San Antonio took a 94-89 lead before Miami's series-saving rally forced overtime.
James hit a three, then after the Spurs hit a free throw, James missed a three that was rebounded by Bosh, who kicked out to Allen for his tying three.
"If it's not me taking the shot," James said, laughing, "I have no problem with Ray taking that shot. He had ice water in his veins. He's big time. We're so happy to have him, man. He creates so much for our team."
Said Heat forward Shane Battier: "If there's one guy you want the ball to be swung to on a situation like that, it's Walter Ray Allen. After years of doing that to us, it was great to be on the right side of that for once."
It was uncharacteristic of San Antonio to squander a five-point lead with less than 30 seconds left in regulation. Some Heat fans didn't see the fantastic finish, leaving the arena at that time.
"It's obviously disappointing, having the lead that we went into the fourth with," Duncan said. "The opportunities we had to close it out. It is what it is. It's a one-game series now. I don't know what happened in the fourth and in overtime. Just the opportunities weren't there. I did have some opportunities, just missed shots. Whatever you want to call it. Just a disappointing loss."
Mario Chalmers had 20 points, and Chalmers, Mike Miller and Shane Battier led the Heat's three-point attack, making 11 of 19. Dwyane Wade added 14 points, and Bosh had 10 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and those two huge blocks.
They negated the big game from Duncan, and for the most part kept the other Spurs in check, especially Green. Manu Ginobili didn't repeat his outstanding Game 5 performance, and Tony Parker did not have best shooting game.
"Bad. Very bad. It's a tough moment," Ginobili said about his performance. "We were a few seconds away from winning the championship, and we let it go. It's very tough."
Ginobili, in fact, had a really bad stretch at the end of overtime. With 40.5 seconds left, he threw a bad pass that was picked off by James. Then with with seconds remaining, he lost the ball while driving to the basket that was grabbed by Allen, who was fouled at hit the two free throws.
"It was a hell of a game. It was a hell of a game," Popovich said. "It was an OT game. It was a game of mistakes. And they ended up on the winning side."
Miami's defense had just enough to stop San Antonio, which shot 58.3% in the first half but finished at 43.5%.
Spoelstra did not make another change in the starting lineup, staying with forward Mike Miller in favor of forward Udonis Haslem.
"It's more how than who, and that's been our focus yesterday and today," Spoelstra said 90 minutes before tip-off.
The Heat again struggled against San Antonio's precision offense. Spoelstra made the bold decision to lock down on Spurs three-point specialist Danny Green. That part of the plan worked. Green, who already set a Finals record for three-pointers made in a series, made one on five tries and scored three points.
But that left Duncan with several opportunities. Duncan took advantage of Miami's focus on Green, making his first eight shots of the game, including six in the first quarter. Miami did a better job limiting three-point attempts, but struggled to contain Duncan.
He scored 13 consecutive points during a stretch in the second quarter, and the Spurs erased 44-39 deficit with an 11-0 run to finish the half.
Both teams were hot early — the Spurs started 8-for-11 and the Heat 7-for-11 — and both coaches called quick first-quarter timeouts after the other team scored. Neither wanted to let the game get away early.
Miami had a habit of falling behind early in this series, but it avoided that pothole in Game 6 with strong offense. Each Heat starter scored in the opening quarter, and James had five points and five assists, accounting for 19 of Miami's 27 first-quarter points.
Now, the Spurs must regroup.
We were in the right position to close it out," Duncan said. "(LeBron) found a way to put his team over the top. And we just didn't make enough plays to do that. I don't know that's it's any more complicated than that. You're in a situation in a closeout game and you have a lead like we did, it's just unfortunate we didn't take advantage of it."
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