They looked headed to a fifth title in five chances when they built a 13-point lead with under 4 minutes left in the third quarter, then grabbed a five-point edge with 28 seconds left in regulation after blowing the lead.
But James hit a 3-pointer and Ray Allen tied it with another. Just 5.2 seconds remained in regulation. The Heat were that close to the edge.
“It’s a tough moment. We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go,” Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili said. “A couple rebounds we didn’t catch, a tough 3 by Ray and a couple missed free throws. It’s a very tough moment.”
James was just 3 of 12 after three quarters, the Heat trailing by 10 and frustration apparent among the players and panic setting in among the fans.
Nothing to worry about. Not with James playing like this. He finished 11 of 26, even making a steal after his basket had given Miami a 101-100 edge in the OT.
Somewhere in there, early in the fourth quarter, James lost his familiar headband. He couldn’t remember exactly when or how. Nor was it particularly important to him.
Losing the game would have been far worse.
“I guess the headband was the least of my worries at that point,” James said.
Before that, he had been 12 minutes from hearing the familiar criticisms about not being able to get it done, from having to watch a team celebrate on his home floor again.
Then he changed the game and erased that story.
The Heat, who haven’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 8 and 10, had too much defense and way too much James for the Spurs in the final 17 minutes. They are trying to become the fourth team to win the final two games at home since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the finals in 1985.
This wasn’t quite the 45-point performance in Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals in Boston, but given the higher stakes it may go down as more important — if the Heat follow it with another victory Thursday.
“He just made plays. I don’t think there’s any two ways to put it,” Duncan said. “We were in the right position to close it out and he found a way to put his team over the top and we just didn’t make enough plays to do that.”
Kawhi Leonard had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs. Tony Parker had 19 points and eight assists, but shot just 6 of 23 from the field.
The Spurs had one final chance down 103-100, but Chris Bosh blocked Danny Green’s 3-pointer from the corner as time expired.