A high-arcing, game-tying 3-point shot from deep in the corner by Ray Allen with just over five seconds remaining in regulation capped off an epic fourth quarter comeback that lifted the Miami Heat to a 103-100 overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena. The Heat have now evened their Finals series with the Spurs at three games apiece and face the Spurs in a deciding Game 7 Thursday night.
LeBron James sparked the fourth quarter rally, losing his “Slick Watts”-inspired headband in the process. It was arguably the most physical James has played in any 12 minute stretch, and prompted him at the game’s conclusion to remark “It’s by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of.” As a result of his efforts, James notched yet another remarkable triple-double, with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
At the conclusion of the third quarter, the Spurs led 75-65, and to that point had bested the Heat 44-16 in the paint; but were outscored by the Heat 20-16 in that category in the fourth quarter and overtime. But the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, who had 30 points of his own (25 at the half), only contributed five more the entire second half and overtime – none after the third quarter. Duncan had a double-double for the game (17 rebounds), as did teammate Kawhi Leonard (22 points / 11 rebounds). Tony Parker also posted a strong 19 points and 8 assists, but largely disappeared in the crucial final frames.
Turnovers once again proved costly for the Spurs, with Manu Ginobili committing a jaw-dropping eight of the team’s total of 13 – most of them in the final quarter. But the overall tone of the Spurs’ play as a team in the last 12 minutes was uncharacteristically tentative – with missed free throws compounding the effect of the turnovers. And though security personnel were stationed at courtside along with yellow caution tape in anticipation of a San Antonio victory (the Spurs being up by 5 points with 28 seconds remaining), Leonard missed a huge free throw in the final seconds that allowed the opening for Allen’s heroic three-pointer.
While the Spurs were spinning their wheels by failing to get inside, James was determinedly charging the lane, banging bodies in the paint and making uncontested layups almost at will, supplemented by an occasional outside shot – he scored 18 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter. But as hot as James was in the fourth, the Spurs’ would-have-likely-been-MVP Danny Green was cold as ice. He was only 1-of-7 from the floor for 3 total points, and his three-point attempt at the close of overtime having been stuffed by the Heat’s Chris Bosh was a disappointing coda for the Spurs’ inability to pull out the win.
The Heat were also hot as a team from beyond the arc. In addition to Allen’s timely three at the end of regulation, Miami’s Mario Chalmers (20 points) and Mike Miller (8 points) combined to make 6-of-7 three-point attempts. As a team, the Heat hit 58% from downtown, while the Spurs were a woeful 28% (5-for-18) in that category.
The strategy for Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, his team getting humbled down low for three quarters, was one he’s employed before to erase big deficits. Instead of trying to get physical with the Spurs’ big men, he decided to switch for an extended stretch to a smaller lineup of LeBron James, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen – spreading the floor and getting good perimeter shots in the process. It’s a strategy that San Antonio will have to adjust for if they want to win their first NBA title in 6 years on Thursday.