What more could you ask for from an NBA Finals game? Great players from two great teams making big plays in crunch time.
That's what basketball fans were treated to in Game 6, which the Miami Heat won 103-100 in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night. It was an instant classic, and one that Thursday's Game 7 will have a tough time topping.
Not that it won't. You can bet some theatrics will ensue when no fewer than seven Hall of Famers are involved in a winner-take-all tussle for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
But before we get too wrapped up in a hotly anticipated season finale, let's look back at the biggest takeaways from Game 6.
LeBron James lost his headband early in the fourth quarter, but he appeared to find his game in the process. The reigning finals MVP went on to score 16 points and tally two rebounds and two assists in the frame to lead the Heat back from a 10-point deficit.
LeBron attacked the basket, punished the Spurs in the post and was generally the force of nature that he usually is...but hadn't been through the first 36 minutes of Game 6.
James certainly wasn't perfect down the stretch, though. He lost the ball twice during the final 39 seconds after San Antonio had regained the lead, thereby putting Miami in a bind that, at the time, seemed like the nail in Miami's championship coffin.
But LeBron came right back, taking two three-pointers to make one with 20 seconds left in regulation and slicing the deficit to two. After a clutch three by Ray Allen (more on that later) and a tense five minutes of overtime, the Heat emerged with the victory.
And LeBron with yet another triple-double: 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists (and three steals and a block). According to NBA.com, it was James' 11th postseason triple-double (tied for second all-time with Jason Kidd) and fourth in a finals game, leaving him second only to Magic Johnson (eight).
Not bad, 'Bron.
If the fourth quarter was LeBron's, then the first three belonged to Tim Duncan.
Well, the first two, anyway. Duncan scored 25 of his 30 points and grabbed eight of his 17 rebounds before halftime. It was 19 minutes of vintage Timmy—hitting bank shots, tossing in hooks with either hand, backing down Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen in the post, tossing in off-balance jumpers, dunking over helpless defenders.
You name it, Duncan did it...in the first half. Not so much after that, when he missed six of his eight attempts from the field.
I suppose there's only so much you can ask of a 37-year-old, even in the most important of games.
None of the quarters belonged to Manu Ginobili. The wily Argentine followed his amazing Game 5 with a stinker of epic proportions: nine points, three assists and a career-worst EIGHT turnovers. He was tentative at times and too loose at others, with two of his miscues coming in the last 44 seconds.
Where Game 5 saw an exaggeration of Good Manu, Game 6 saw the absolute worst of Bad Manu. And in many ways, it cost San Antonio a chance to wrap up the title.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn't have the best box-score games, either. The other two cogs in the Heat's Big Three combined to score a modest 24 points on 11-of-27 from the field.
But bad shooting nights didn't prevent Wade and Bosh from making meaningful contributions to the winning effort.
Wade dropped four dimes and notched a pair of blocks, including one on Duncan. Bosh, on the other hand, ripped down 11 rebounds—including the offensive board that led to Ray Allen's clutch three—picked off three passes and blocked a pair of jumpers (Tony Parker's 17-footer and Danny Green's three at the buzzer) in overtime.
Together, Wade and Bosh proved, once again, that there's more to NBA superstardom than just scoring in bunches—that greatness demands finding ways to impact the game when the shots aren't falling.
It'd be too easy to focus on the one free throw that Kawhi Leonard missed down the stretch and condemn him for leaving the door open for Miami.
But that would ignore the many ways that Leonard came through in Game 6. He threw down vicious dunks and flipped in a few nifty floaters while being his usual destructive self on the boards and on defense.
Leonard finished the night with 22 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, marking his third double-double of these finals.
His first finals. At the tender age of 21.
Win or lose, this kid clearly has a bright future in the league.
There was a reason signing Ray Allen over the summer was such a big deal for the Heat.
And that reason was clearer than ever Tuesday night. With six seconds left and Miami down three, Allen—in what seemed like one fluid motion—caught a pass from Chris Bosh, stepped behind the three-point line and nailed a cold-blooded jumper over Tony Parker to tie the score.
Even if Ray hadn't scored four points in overtime, his night clearly would've been a success. Because, really, that's all the Heat brought him to South Beach to do, and he delivered.
Ray Allen wasn't the only Heat role player to come up aces in Game 6, though.
Mike Miller justified his spot in Miami's starting five by hitting a pair of threes. Mario Chalmers scored 20 points on 11 shots after tallying just 13 points in three games in San Antonio. In his first minutes since Game 3, Chris Andersen snagged a trio of steals in the second half while lending plenty of energy and intensity to the Heat's defensive effort.
And Shane Battier, who came into Game 6 having hit just 22.4 percent of his three-point attempts in these playoffs (and briefly losing his spot in Erik Spoelstra's rotation as a result), nailed three of his four looks from beyond the arc, including one that banked in off the backboard.
These performances may seem surprising, considering how poorly Miami's supporting cast played on the road in this series. But as a rule of thumb, role players tend to play much, much, MUCH better at home.
Which is precisely what took place with the Heat's non-superstars to save the day in Game 6.