MIAMI — The Heat were on the brink of defeat and embarrassment. The San Antonio Spurs were just 28.2 seconds from a fifth title in 15 years. Their bench was beginning to celebrate.
Yet, the Heat never relented despite their lack of execution. They didn’t back off or slow down as they did two years ago against the Dallas Mavericks. They kept pushing.
And with their season at stake, an old reliable player familiar in Boston came through with his biggest shot in years. Ray Allen sent the game into overtime with a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left and the Heat survived in overtime for an amazing 103-100 Game 6 victory to tie the NBA Finals at three games apiece. Game 7 is Thursday at Miami.
“We feel very grateful we have an opportunity to play for a title in a Game 7,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys aren’t looking for games that are less meaningful. We’re looking for games that are more meaningful. And there’s nothing bigger than a Game 7.’’
The Spurs just needed to hit free throws to seal another title, but Manu Ginobili missed the first of two with 28.2 seconds left and Kawhi Leonard missed one with 14.4 seconds left, setting up Allen’s heroics.
Chris Bosh rebounded a LeBron James miss and fed it to Allen in the corner and without hesitation, he fired a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net. In overtime, the Spurs led, 100-97, with 2:42 left but then went scoreless. Allen responded with a layup, as did James.
And Allen, who finished with 9 critical points, sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left. The Spurs found 3-point ace Danny Green in the corner with under a second left, but Bosh snuffed his shot, sending this series to an epic Game 7.
James finished with his second triple-double of the series with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists and Mario Chalmers added 20 points. Tim Duncan scored 30, but just 5 after halftime. The Spurs will lament blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead and that 5-point lead with 28.2 seconds left.
Tony Parker had 19 on just 6-for-23 shooting and Ginobili made several mistakes down the stretch and had eight of the Spurs’ 15 turnovers.
“It’s a tough moment,’’ Ginobili said. “We were a few seconds away from winning the championship, and we let it go. A couple of rebounds that we didn’t catch, a tough three by Ray, a couple of missed free throws, it’s very tough. We were in a great spot. We just gave them another chance, and it hurts because it’s one of those moments where you’re going to be thinking about what we could have done better in the last few possessions so many times all night long, all tomorrow till the next game. So it’s terrible.’’
The Spurs began the third period with a Ginobili 3-pointer for a 9-point lead but while James was shoddy from the field, Chalmers and Dwyane Wade sparked an 11-4 run to draw the Heat within 57-56. San Antonio’s response was championship worthy, as Parker completed a 3-point play and Duncan added another and suddenly the Spurs were leading, 71-58.
James’s two free throws sliced the lead to 75-65, and the Heat then began the fourth with the first 5 points. During a Tiago Splitter layup, Miami’s Mike Miller lost his shoe. He ran gingerly up the court, flipped the shoe near the bench, then was left open for a 3-pointer, which he swished with one sock exposed. It reduced San Antonio’s lead to 77-73 and appeared to stun the Spurs.
That’s when James went into takeover mode, starting a 15-3 run that briefly gave the Heat the lead. During the run, James was fouled hard by Ginobili and lost his customary headband. Instead of retrieving it from the ballboy, James played the rest of the game without it, and looking more like Michael Jordan with the balding crown.
And he played like Jordan in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points as the Heat rallied.
Miami appeared to have control of the game as Chalmers was splashing jumpers and the Heat reserves were producing timely points and rebounds. Chalmers’s jumpers increased the advantage to 40-33 with 7:29 remaining in the second period.
Then Duncan jumped into that NBA Retro Time Machine. Wade used it for Game 3 and scored 32 points. On Tuesday, Duncan wowed the crowd with a series of bank shots, spin moves and layups. He scored 13 consecutive points between the 7:13 mark and 1:24 mark as the Spurs went on a 13-4 run to take a 46-44 lead.
Boris Diaw and Leonard added hoops in the final 40 seconds to extend the halftime lead to 6. The AmericanAirlines Arena crowd was stunned. More stunning was the 25-point half from Duncan, who converted 11 of his 13 shots and added eight rebounds.
James had a quiet half with 9 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds, but saved his best for the final period.
The Heat promised more passion and better execution in Game 6 but they didn’t really exert their will until late in the first quarter. Duncan scored 8 of the Spurs’ 16 points as the game was even through the first six minutes.
Buckets from Leonard and Diaw started an 8-3 run for a 24-19 lead. That’s when Miami responded behind maddening erratic Chalmers, who showed up significantly as he did in Game 2, scoring a layup followed by a Battier 3-pointer to even the game.
Chalmers then followed with another 3-pointer and Miami was stretching the floor using James and Wade and hitting long-range shots. Despite the Spurs shooting 61.1 percent in the first period, they trailed, 27-25, because the Heat drained four 3-pointers and got 10 points from Chalmers.
James scored just 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting, with five assists.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe