The tearing down of LeBron James was beginning to stir.
The league’s greatest player was mediocre for three quarters of Game 6 despite cries for him to be legendary. His Miami Heat trailed by 10 points entering the fourth quarter, and James’ stat line was stagnant at 14 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
A legacy was on the line; this was James’ moment to decide how his story would be told.
His response was one fit for the history books.
James scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter in captaining the comeback and eventual 103-100 overtime victory against the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night. Now, the 2013 NBA Finals carry on to a Game 7 on Thursday night.
The league MVP finished with a triple-double, tallying 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. But it wasn’t even what James did; it was how he did it.
LeBron was mystically transformed after Tim Duncan knocked his trademark headband from his head early in the fourth quarter.
The Heat superstar became crazed, losing his signature accessory but gaining an urgency that he has lacked during these final. James had done a better job of attacking the basket through the first three quarters, yet he uncharacteristically missed on finishes.
He was playing like a mortal, like a star who was about to lose his third finals in four attempts. He looked ready to be roasted as a player who would be most remembered for shrinking in the moment.
Instead, the emblematic moment of shedding his headband shifted his character. James drove with an unstoppable ferocity. He finished with strength and balance, appearing a step quicker and a leap higher than any player on the floor.
There was something enchanting about his fourth quarter takeover. There were moments when, with the ball in his hands, you knew he would do something great.
Of course, it wasn't all magical. The stretch of dominance didn’t endure the remainder of the game, though it led Miami back into a position to steal the win. And there was an ugly run at the end that could have shifted the narrative back to "unclutch."
With four minutes left and the Heat leading 87-84, James missed a 17-foot jumper in a head-scratching moment when he decided to settle after having reached the rim with such ease shortly beforehand.
He lost another possession with 3:17 remaining when he was called for an offensive charge against Tony Parker. As the Heat trailed 91-89 with 39 seconds remaining, James turned the ball over, and he did it again trailing 93-89 with 28 seconds remaining with a bad pass.
It appeared as if he was disappearing yet again.
James seemed to have gone completely cold again with 23 seconds left and his Heat trailing 94-89 when he missed a three-point attempt. But then luck swung his way, and an offensive rebound led back to another three-point attempt that, this time, he hit to pull Miami within two with 20 seconds left.
Ultimately, it was Ray Allen’s game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds that sent the game to overtime and allowed James to be remembered as a hero and not a failure, even if he only had one basket in overtime.
It's funny how being picked up by a teammate can change a personal story line.
Still, it was James’ ability to take over the game that lifted the Heat to a Game 7 and the opportunity to win a second consecutive title. When LeBron watches the Game 6 tape of his fourth-quarter performance, he will see what it takes to create a legacy as an all-time great.
If he plays as he did in the fourth quarter for an entire Game 7, the Heat will undoubtedly be crowned champions once again.