Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty Images
It wasn't pretty. It wasn't clean.
But it was memorable.
Classic Game 6.
LeBron James was not unstoppable. LeBron James was not invulnerable.
But he won. His Heat won, 103-100, in overtime to tie up this NBA Finals at three wins apiece.
Classic 6, indeed.
But don't take my words for it.
Listen to Magic Johnson on the ESPN postgame show.
"This was one of the top two or three games that I've ever seen in NBA history. I've been in this league over 30 years, whether I was involved in it, or just watching as a fan. The backs and forths, the highs and lows. The first half dominated by Tim Duncan and the Spurs. The third quarter dominated by the Spurs to take a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. The best player in the world said, 'You know what? Not on my watch. I'm not going out like this.' LeBron James had one of the best fourth-quarter performances I've ever seen, to go along with Michael Jordan, Kobe, Larry Bird, all those guys. Then Ray Allen said, 'This is what I do.' This is what I get paid to do. Hit big shots."
Or for another Amen, listen to LeBron himself at the NBA Finals press conference.
"It was by far the best game I've ever been a part of. The ups-and-downs, the roller coasters, the emotions, good and bad, throughout the whole game. To be a part of something like this is something you'll never be able to recreate once you're done playing the game. And I'm blessed to be a part of something like this. I'm happy about the way we dug down and was able to get a win that didn't look like we could muster up at some point in the game."
This all sets up probably the most highly-anticipated Game 7 of the 21st Century.
It will be played on Thursday, June 20, 2013 in Miami.
It will be watched by millions and millions, perhaps the biggest audience the NBA has seen since Michael Jordan graced the hardwood.
It will be the biggest contingent of past Finals MVPs ever gathered on one floor since 1985, when Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade do battle alongside fellow future Hall-of-Fame compatriots Manu Ginobili, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and future All-Star Kawhi Leonard, not to mention future Hall-of-Famer and seldom-used sub Tracy McGrady.
Indeed, this 2013 NBA Finals probably goes down as the most legendary championship series since the 1969 NBA Finals when 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell sang his swan song alongside Boston Celtics Hall-of-Fame teammates John Havlicek, Bailey Howell and Sam Jones as they defeated fellow Hall-of-Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and the L.A. Lakers in seven games.
And all of this will be made possible because of the unforgettable Game 6 that foreshadowed Thursday's Game of the Century.
Before Game 6, on NBA TV's pregame special, the greatest player ever Bill Russell spoke of his favorite player Tim Duncan, saying, "If San Antonio were to win, I would pick Tim Duncan as the Finals MVP because he makes both offense and defense for San Antonio. Because you got inside presence offensively and you got inside presence defensively."
Duncan's first-half all-around dominance in Game 6 proved Russell prophetic, with the Spurs center delivering 25 points and 8 rebounds in a Finals 50-44 first-half takeover that will always be remembered.
As Magic pointed out, the Spurs stretched their lead in the third quarter, going up by as many as 12 with a minute to go, before two LeBron James free throws narrowed the gap to 10 at period's end.
But it was the fourth quarter that belonged to LeBron and the Miami Heat defense, which shut out San Antonio for a three-and-a-half minute stretch, while LeBron himself scored 10 points--all at the rim--added one free throw and threw out two assists for a pair of three-pointers that enabled the Heat to take the lead during that Spurs' drought.
LeBron was all heart.
On one putback dunk with 8:59 to go, his trademarked white headband came off when Duncan swiped it off on a block attempt.
Rather than retrieving it later and placing it back on his head, LeBron went sans headband for the remainder of the night.
Kind of symbolic.
He was unmasked. No makeup.
His receding hairline there for all to see.
But LeBron had no time for appearances here He was too busy tangling with the veteran Spurs to worry about appearances sake.
After all, he is a champion and a veteran too now. Time to look the part of a grizzled vet.
He had a ballgame to win and this run he was on helped put Miami in position to finally take a lead again.
San Antonio wasn't going to go away quietly though, with Spurs guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili finally waking up and scoring 10 combined points on their own 10-2 run to give the Spurs a 94-89 lead with 28 seconds left.
Yes, San Antonio was less than 30 seconds away from their fifth NBA championship in 15 seasons.
But LeBron and the Heat had a little bit more left in the tank, taking advantage of a couple possessions where Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich subbed out top defender and rebounder Tim Duncan for the more mobile Boris Diaw, to guard against three-point shooters coming off pick-and-rolls.
The strategy didn't work when Miami missed their first three-point attempts only to gather subsequent offensive rebounds and find other open three-point shooters.
First it was LeBron missing the 26-foot 3 at the top of the perimeter, teammate Mike Miller rebounding and assisting LeBron for the made 25-foot 3 on the left perimeter with 23 second remaining.
After Miami put Kawhi Leonard on the free-throw line, where he made one of two free throws to give the Spurs a 95-92 lead with 19 seconds left, LeBron had the stage to himself again.
And this time from the left perimeter, once again he missed a 26-foot 3, with Bosh muscling the offensive rebound in the paint and quickly assisting on a kick-out to Allen for the step-back right corner 3 to tie the game at 95 with five seconds.
It was that type of game for Miami, who avoided elimination in regulation, and went on to win in overtime, 103-100.
Fighting off the Spurs, who led most of the game.
Fighting off 37-year-old legend Tim Duncan, who had a game for the ages, with 30 points and 17 rebounds on .647 true shooting percentage with a +16 plus-minus score.
Fighting off 21-year-old rising star Kawhi Leonard, who recorded 22 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals on .698 true shooting percentage with a +11 plus-minus score.
It wasn't always pretty.
The defense of Leonard and Boris Diaw bothered LeBron much of the game, eventually holding the four-time MVP to 11-of-26 shooting and subpar .512 true shooting percentage on a -1 plus-minus score.
Still, LeBron fought on.
However he could. Whenever he could.
"He kind of willed it," said Duncan at the NBA Finals postgame press conference. "Defensively, he made some plays. He had a block on me and a score on the other end, back-to-back. He made plays. I don't know if there are any two ways to put it. We were in the right position to close it out. He found a way to put his team over the top. We just didn't make enough plays to do that. I don't know if it's any more complicated than that. You're in a situation in a close-out game and you have a lead like we did. It's just unfortunate we didn't take advantage of it."
With a loaded triple-double--32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, not to mention 3 steals--LeBron did whatever it took to win.
He fought off Duncan's greatness.
Held off Leonard's youth.
And lived to fight another day.
Game 7 is Thursday, people.
It is certain to be legendary.