NBA Finals: Heat survive in OT to force Game 7


NBA Finals: Heat survive in OT to force Game 7

MIAMI -- LeBron James saved a championship reign, canceled a celebration.

The toughest part now might be topping this performance in Game 7.

"It's by far the best game I've ever been a part of," James said.

He wouldn't let the Miami Heat lose it -- or their NBA title.

If the San Antonio Spurs want that, they'll have to fight just a little harder to get it. One last game, winner take all.

James powered Miami to a frantic fourth-quarter rally and overtime escape as the Heat beat the Spurs 103-100 on Tuesday night to extend the NBA Finals as far as they can go and keep Miami's repeat chances alive.

Losing his headband but keeping his cool while playing the entire second half and overtime, James finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, making the go-ahead basket with 1:43 remaining in the extra period.

So close to being eliminated that they noticed officials bringing yellow tape out to block off the court for the Spurs' trophy presentation, the Heat hit a couple of big 3-pointers, got some defensive stops, and did everything else that makes great teams champions.

"We seen the championship board already out there, the yellow tape. And you know, that's why you play the game to the final buzzer," James said. "And that's what we did tonight. We gave it everything that we had and more."

Tim Duncan scored 30 points for the Spurs, his most in an NBA Finals game since Game 1 in 2003, but was shut out after the third quarter. He added 17 rebounds.

Game 7 will be here Thursday, the NBA's first do-or-die matchup to determine its champion since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2010.

"They're the best two words in sports: Game 7," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

And two the Spurs were oh-so-close to avoiding.

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 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.

James came in averaging 31.5 points in elimination games, highest in NBA history, according to a stat provided through the NBA by the Elias Sports Bureau.

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 may go down as more important -- if the Heat follow it with another victory Thursday.

The Heat were in the same place as they were in 2011 at the end of their Big Three's first season together, coming home from Texas facing a 3-2 deficit in the finals.

This is a different team. And oh, what a different James.

"He just plays with great force," Allen said.

The Heat said they welcomed this challenge, a chance to show they how much mentally tougher they were than the team the Dallas Mavericks easily handled in Game 6 that night.

James made sure they did, looking nothing like the player who was so bad in the fourth quarters during that series.

He was simply unstoppable down the stretch of this one.

"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.

Bosh had said Green wouldn't get open the way he has all series -- and he didn't.

Green finished 1 of 5 from behind the arc after going 25 of 38 on 3-pointers (65.8 percent) in the first five games.

The Heat, the NBA's 66-win powerhouse during the regular season, will be playing a seventh game for the second straight round, having needed to go the distance to beat the Indiana Pacers in the East finals.

"See you in Game 7!" the public address announcer hollered as some Heat fans tossed their white T-shirts -- the ones that hang on chairs in the arena. These read "First to 16 Wins," meaning the number of victories it takes to win the championship.

The race will go down to a final day.

The Heat are 13-0 after losses over the last five months, though this was nothing like the previous 12 that had come by an average of nearly 20 points. Nor was it like the previous four games of this series, which had all been blowouts after the Spurs pulled out a four-point victory in Game 1.

San Antonio had an 11-0 run in the first half, then a 13-3 burst in the third quarter for a 71-58 lead, and a final flurry late in regulation that seemed to have them ready to walk off with another title.

Parker's 3-pointer over James tied it at 89 with 1:27 left. He then came up with a steal, spinning into the lane for a 91-89 lead with 58 seconds to go. Miami coughed it up again and Ginobili made two free throws, and he hit another after a third straight Miami turnover to put the Spurs ahead 94-89.

But James nailed a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, and the Heat had one more chance after Leonard made just one foul shot to give the Spurs a 95-92 edge. James missed but Bosh got the rebound out to Allen, the league's career leader in 3-pointers, who made another one from the corner to even it up.

The Spurs went ahead by three again in overtime, but James found a cutting Allen for a basket, then scored himself to put the Heat on top. They clinched it when Bosh blocked San Antonio's final two shot attempts.

Bosh finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Mario Chalmers scored 20 points and Dwyane Wade had 14.

After shooting 60 percent in Game 5, the Spurs hadn't cooled off when they traded Texas heat for the South Florida sun, making nine of their first 12 shots to open a 20-16 lead. Duncan made all six shots in the first quarter, but consecutive 3-pointers by Shane Battier and Chalmers late in the period rallied Miami to a 27-25 advantage.

Duncan made his first eight shots, scoring 13 straight San Antonio points over nearly 8 minutes in the second quarter. Boris Diaw finally stopped that stretch with a little scoop shot in the lane and Leonard tipped in a miss with 1.3 seconds left, capping the Spurs' 11-0 run to end the second quarter. It was 50-44 at the break.

With Duncan 37 and Ginobili nearly 36, the Spurs know they may never get another shot like this one.

Duncan knew how tough it would be to get back to the top six years ago, when the Spurs swept James' Cleveland Cavaliers for their most recent title.

San Antonio's leader told James afterward that the league would someday belong to him.

And on Tuesday, James refused to let it go.

James had his 11th postseason triple-double and second of this series. ... Allen moved two behind Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher (48) for second place in finals 3-pointers. Robert Horry, a former champion with the Spurs, made 56 3-pointers in the finals. Horry held the Spurs' record for 3s in a finals with 15 in 2005 that Green has broken with his finals-record 26. ... Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich appeared in their 210th playoff game together, moving 30 ahead of Phil Jackson and Bryant for most all-time.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato and producers/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?


The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by 10.2 points per game, also last in the NBA. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, the Sixers were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense.

Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?


The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown.

The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric.

The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick, Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. The Sixers are going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Finally, basketball is back.

The Sixers will look to put their miserable 2015-16 season behind them when they get the 2016-17 campaign underway with Wednesday's season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m./CSN, Pregame Live at 7).

It should be a fun ride. Let's take a look at the season-opening matchup:

1. Long time coming
If you thought you had a long wait for Wednesday's opener, just think how Joel Embiid and Dario Saric feel.

For Embiid, it will be especially gratifying to take the court for a regular-season game. After being selected No. 3 overall by the Sixers in 2014, the center has been forced to sit out two straight seasons because of a pair of surgeries on his troublesome right foot and endured countless hours of rehab.

Now healthy and fresh off averaging 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in 14.7 minutes during the preseason, Embiid is ready for his first meaningful game action in 970 days.

"I can't wait (for Wednesday's game)," Embiid said, per the Inquirer. "That's going to be my first official NBA game. I just went through the preseason. I thought I got better game by game. I'm looking to finally get that first game."

As for Saric, he spent the past two years playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey after being the 12th overall selection in 2014 and traded to the Sixers. By joining the Sixers a year early, the Croatian, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.1 minutes during the preseason, passed on an opportunity to potentially earn more money.

Both Embiid and Saric have shown their committment to "Trust the Process" from the start, and now the rookies will finally get to prove their worth on the court for the Sixers.

2. Don't forget there is a D in Philadelphia
With Embiid, Saric, Jahlil Okafor, (maybe) Ben Simmons and some added outside shooting, offense shouldn't be an issue for the Sixers this season. However, the other end of floor remains a work in progress.

Head coach Brett Brown stressed Embiid's need to be the Sixers' anchor on defense throughout the preseason.

“He needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece to our defense,” Brown said of Embiid.

That was hard to do with the big man averaging just 14.7 minutes a game during the preseason. With Nerlens Noel sidelined because of knee surgery and a host of new faces trying to find chemistry together, it was more of the same defensive issues as the Sixers allowed 107.1 points per game during exhibition play.

Now, we get it, it's only preseason and a lot of the problems on defense have something to do with the roster's lack of talent in recent years. But it's still a continuing trend for the Sixers under Brown. In his three seasons at the helm, the Sixers have allowed averages of 107.6, 101.0 and 109.9 points per game.

Sure, Embiid can be the centerpiece on defense, but he can't be the only piece.

3. Watch out for Westbrook
Speaking of defense ... it will be tested right from the start by one of the NBA's best offensive players in OKC point guard Russell Westbrook.

With Kevin Durant's bitter departure to the Golden State Warriors, the Sixers and the rest of the league can expect a supremely focused Westbrook.

Just how focused? In 61 career games without Durant, Westbrook has averaged 28.0 points, 8.4 assists and 7.1 rebounds.

Those are MVP-type numbers. And you better believe Westbrook is out to prove he's capable of pulling in that hardware and much more without his former superstar teammate.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (ankle) is expected to play in the opener. Simmons (foot), Noel (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Alex Abrines (hip) is expected to play for the Thunder.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 14 straight matchups to the Thunder.

• Westbrook, who had triple-doubles in both games against the Sixers last season, has averaged 22.0 points, 9.4 assists and 7.9 rebounds against them in his career.

• Brown is 1-2 in season openers as Sixers head coach.

• Nik Stauskas scored a career-high 23 points in the March 18 meeting between the two teams last season.

• The Thunder grabbed 65 and 68 rebounds in the two games against the Sixers a season ago.