MIAMI – The yellow tape started to surround the Miami Heat, the security cordoning the court for the San Antonio Spurs' championship celebration. All around, thousands of fans had fled for the exits. There were 28 seconds left, the Heat on the cusp of history remembering them for NBA Finals failures, a champion of hype and hubris.
"They brought out the yellow tape," Chris Bosh said, "and it was getting me pissed off.
"It brought me back to 2011."
The Spurs had become the Dallas Mavericks, and Texas threatened to celebrate on South Beach for the second time in three years. Twenty-eight seconds left in Game 6, the Spurs clutched a five-point edge and that yellow tape could've represented the cops marking a crime scene. In all the chaos of these final minutes, something else captured LeBron James' eye for a moment: the championship ceremony platform had started to be moved into the tunnel at American Airlines Arena.
For all these slights – real and imagined – the Heat changed the course of NBA history. Here was San Antonio, on the brink of another Tim Duncan era championship and these strong, sure Spurs crumpled to the court. They had the Heat, had them done, and let it all slip away. As the Spurs collapsed, missing free throws and box outs, James made a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, and finally, in the far corner, Ray Allen drilled another with five seconds left to force overtime.
"By far," James said, "the best game I've ever been a part of."
This is the reason the Heat embraced, emoted and wrapped themselves with each other in victory. They had lost Game 6, and grabbed it back. They had lost the NBA title, and reclaimed it. When it appeared the Heat were disappearing into the abyss, they danced on stars.
This turned out to be one of those epic nights when the winners were left as stunned as the losers, when Bosh, one of the heroes, stood outside his locker and confessed, "I don't know how we won that game."
They won, because James transformed a pedestrian three quarters into a ferocious fourth – tossing away his headband and his inhibitions to turn a disappointing night into 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. They won, because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich left Duncan and Tony Parker on the bench in telltale moments inside the final minute and overtime when San Antonio needed rebounds, and needed a playmaker.
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They won, because the yellow tape started to surround the floor and the Heat refused to let history repeat itself. "We grabbed onto something that we didn't want to give up," Bosh said.
For one more night, anyway, the Heat stayed defending NBA champions. And now, one more victory, they move themselves into the immortality of back-to-back champions.
And when the Spurs had one final chance at redemption, Bosh – who had blocked Parker's jumper late in overtime, who had grabbed the offensive rebound and shuffled the pass to Allen for the 3-pointer at the end of regulation – watched the eyes of Duncan as he inbounded the ball with 1.9 seconds left, "and then I watched the flight of the ball." Bosh was waiting for Danny Green to grab the pass from across the floor. As the most prolific shooter these Finals have ever witnessed tried to catch and shoot, Bosh's elastic reach made it an impossible proposition. The shot died in Bosh's outstretched arm, and the Heat survived to see a Game 7.
There would be no MVP trophy for Green, no more 3-pointers for his Finals record and no Spurs celebration on the podium here. For the Spurs, only despair and devastation. Only a sickening sense of regret that promises to linger forever.
"I have no clue how we're going to be reenergized," Manu Ginobili said. "I'm devastated."
Had the Spurs been blown out of Game 6, everyone would've understood. They can't count upon Duncan to be so dominant again with 30 points and 17 rebounds. The oldest man on the floor was desperate to close out Miami, desperate to spare himself the need to drag those tired bones back onto the floor for a Game 7.
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Four times, Duncan had watched them come courtside with the yellow tape, the podium and preparations to pass him the trophy. Twenty eight seconds away again, the arena beginning to empty, and desperation washed over these Heat. They were preparing for a Spurs coronation, and James, Bosh and Allen – champions themselves – refused to let it happen here.
"To be part of something like this, you would never be able to recreate a feeling like I had, we had," LeBron James said.
All those broken Spurs hearts, all those anguished eyes dragged out of the arena on Tuesday night. They'll never forget this feeling, never understand how they could let a title slip away like this. All hell broke loose on the shores of Biscayne Bay, and a forever Game 6 pushes into a Game 7. The yellow tape, the trophy platform, no one will need to hide those in the final minutes on Thursday night.
For a few moments, the Heat had that sinking feeling out of '11, out of the misery of the Mavericks debacle in the NBA Finals. This time, they made a stand. This time, they spared themselves the humiliation, and thrust the Spurs into a state of disbelief. Onto Game 7, and into the arms of history now.
NBA Finals coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Ray Allen nails huge 3-pointer to send Game 6 to overtime
• Watch: LeBron James blocks Tim Duncan at the rim
• Slideshow: LeBron James loses headband, leads Heat to victory
• Y! Sports Fan Shop: Buy 2013 NBA Finals merchandise
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- Chris Bosh
- Miami Heat
- San Antonio Spurs
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- Tim Duncan