NBA Finals: Heat survive in OT to force Game 7

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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.

Notes
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.

Dario Saric reportedly says he's coming to Sixers, but Colangelo still cautious

Dario Saric reportedly says he's coming to Sixers, but Colangelo still cautious

When dealing with a foreign player like Dario Saric, you can't help but wonder if something is being lost in translation. Keeping in mind that language barrier, a Croatian website is reporting that Saric is set on heading to Philadelphia.

The quote from Saric, as translated by Twitter user @CroSports_ reads as follows: "Everything is leading in that direction. I'm waiting for this tournament (Olympic qualifying) to end so that I can sit down and work out a deal, then head over to the USA to sign. 

"I have one more year with Efes (Turkish basketball team Anadolu Efes) and [head coach Velimir] Perasovic wants me to stay, but I gave [the Sixers] my word. My word means more than a paper.”

The speculation over Saric has been an ongoing saga for the Sixers. While president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo is cautiously optimistic about bringing over the No. 12 overall pick, he knows that Saric putting pen to paper does actually matter. 

"It’s a very solid statement on his part and indicates his commitment, but nothing is official until the buyout agreement is finalized and he gets cleared by FIBA. Then he can sign,” Colangelo said to CSNPhilly's Dei Lynam. 

Remember, earlier this month Colangelo and head coach Brett Brown met with Saric in Istanbul, and Colangelo didn't have a strong feeling either way regarding Saric's chances of coming to the Sixers.

“I wasn’t pessimistic, I wasn’t optimistic," Colangelo said at the time. "I was somewhat neutral as to whether or not I felt he would be coming over and I still feel that way."

Saric has until July 17 to notify his current team, Anadolu Efes, of his decision. 

Sixers exercise team option on G/F Hollis Thompson

Sixers exercise team option on G/F Hollis Thompson

Hollis Thompson will be back next season. 

The Sixers exercised the swingman's fourth-year team option for the 2016-17 season. The option is worth just north of $1 million, according to Basketball Reference. 

Thompson, 6-foot-8, 206 pounds, has played three NBA seasons with the Sixers after going undrafted out of Georgetown in 2012. 

In his 225 NBA games (81 starts), he has averaged 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He's also shot 39 percent from three and his 331 career three-pointers rank him eighth in Sixers history. 

Sixers free-agent fits: Small forwards — Superstars, Barnes, Parsons and more

Sixers free-agent fits: Small forwards — Superstars, Barnes, Parsons and more

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. We've already analyzed point guards and shooting guards. Today, we'll break down small forwards.

Sixers small forwards for 2016-17
Robert Covington (guaranteed — $1,015,696)

Jerami Grant (guaranteed — $980,431)

Current SF situation
When you're a 10-win team, you need help just about everywhere. Small forward is no exception for the Sixers.

Covington worked hard all last offseason to become a more well-rounded player and it paid off in some aspects. He grabbed a career-high 6.3 rebounds and was a much better on-ball defender than the previous season. However, with more freedom the three-point specialist's offensive production actually dropped a bit. Covington's points (13.5 to 12.8), field goal percentage (39.6 to 38.5) and three-point percentage (37.4 to 35.3) all took a dip in 2015-16.

Grant took the next step in his progression last season, but there is still a long way to go. The 22-year-old increased his scoring to 9.7 points per game and rebounding to 4.7 a night while also bumping his field goal percentage from 35.2 percent to 41.9. He also proved to be one of the game's emerging defenders with 1.6 blocks a game (12th in the entire NBA). But with the Sixers already having so many players operating in the paint, they would prefer Grant to step outside to develop his jump shot. That didn't go well at all, as he managed to sink just 35 of his 146 three-point attempts (24.0) a season ago.

The Sixers could get a boost on the wing if international prospects Dario Saric or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot join the club. Luwawu-Cabarrot is more likely to strike a deal, but either way it will be tough to ask a rookie who is also new to the United States to come in and contribute at the game's highest level right away.

Reach free agent(s)

LeBron James and Kevin Durant
Nope. Not going to happen. Moving right along.

Possible fits

Harrison Barnes (restricted)
Yes, we saw the memes with Barnes' face Photoshopped onto milk cartons and trash cans after the Finals. They were both hilarious and semi-accurate after a postseason performance in which he averaged 9.0 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting. However, we're not ready to write Barnes off after a rough two-month stretch and reportedly neither are the Sixers. Barnes, 24, proved to be a key cog of the Warriors' high-powered machine. He put up a career-high 11.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range. That level of consistent floor spacing with the ability to grab rebounds (4.9 per game) and still slash to the rim is exactly what the Sixers need. The big question is will they get that same package or was that just the benefit of Barnes playing with a star-studded Golden State team that won a record 73 games during the regular season?

Nicolas Batum (unrestricted)
Perhaps the most versatile of all the free-agent small forwards, Batum had a strong first season in Charlotte. The Frenchman averaged a career-high 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 35.0 minutes a game for the up-and-coming Hornets. Batum would be a huge upgrade for the Sixers as he doesn't need the ball to be effective, uses his length to play lockdown defense and drains enough three-pointers to keep defenses honest (career 36.0 percent shooter from long range). At 27 years old along with a wealth of NBA and international experience, Batum would instantly be a leader for this young Sixers group. But without ever winning on the top levels of competition, Batum might opt for a more championship-ready team than the rebuilding 76ers.

Chandler Parsons (unrestricted)
A source close to Parsons told ESPN last week that the small forward would be "all ears" during free agency after declining his player option with the Dallas Mavericks. Parsons doubled down on that notion with an Instagram post. He will likely only start listening once the max offers cross his agent's desk. Parsons, a 2011 second-rond pick, has worked his way into being one of the more well-rounded players at his position. He posted 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game for the Mavs while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three. Parsons is the classic 3-and-D player the Sixers have been coveting for years ... if he's healthy. He has been shut down in each of the past two seasons with knee injuries, which both led to surgeries. The Sixers would need to be absolutely certain Parsons is back to full health before throwing that kind of money at him to sign in Philly.

Kent Bazemore (unrestricted)
The name may not be the sexiest out there, but he can ball. After going undrafted and biding his time with the Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks for several seasons, Bazemore broke out in his first consistent stint as a starter in 2015-16. In 27.8 minutes a night, he put up 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. The 26-year-old Bazemore's athleticism fits right into Brett Brown's desire to get out and run while his defensive intensity would boost a team that needs all the help it can get on that end of the floor. A bonus is the fact he can sink shots from beyond the arc when left open (35.7 percent from three-point range). Doubtful that he will ever turn into a guy you can count on for 20-plus points a night, but would still be a pretty solid fit in a Sixers uniform if they miss out on their other top targets.