DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It sure looked like the NBA season was coming to an end last night. World champions San Antonio Spurs - no, not so fast. The Miami Heat were not ready to give in. After a thrilling, improbable comeback, the Heat are still alive, pushing their NBA final series with the Spurs to the brink; a decisive Game 7 tomorrow.
Last night, the Heat were down by five points with just over 20 seconds remaining. They came back, forced overtime - and won. Final score: 103-to-100. One of the people in the crowd was NPR's Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Of course, the Heat were going to win. For one thing, they'd alternated between wins and losses for a dozen games, and their last game was a loss. They were coming home to Miami, and they seem to suffer from binary motivational syndrome. This game was at the play hard part of the cycle. But it wasn't actually from a basketball standpoint that victory seemed assured; it was from a dramatic one.
Seven-part series have heft. Sevens are culturally significant - "Samurai," "Brides for Brothers," seals and signs - and heptalogies abound, like the seven-part "Harry Potter" series and the seven "Chronicles of Narnia." Anyway, it was a dramatic certainty that the Heat would get to a Game 7, though no one informed the Spurs, who led by 10 entering the third. Spurs big man Tim Duncan thought his team was in a good shape.
TIM DUNCAN: We had a lapse for a couple of minutes, here and there. As I said, up 10 points going into the fourth quarter, we like our chances.
PESCA: But the Heat came out firing, erased the lead, gave it back. And then with five seconds left, Ray Allen found himself - ball in hand - behind the three-point arc with a chance to tie, which he did. Afterward, the most prolific three-point shooter of all time said it was one of the most important shots he'd ever hit.
RAY ALLEN: This will go, you know, high up in the ranks because of the situation - it wasn't looking good for us. But I've known my whole career, sometimes you just get lucky, you know. When you win championships, it involves a little luck. And that, right there, was luck shining on our side.
PESCA: In the post season, it was Allen's fifth career game-tying or go-ahead shot with under 10 seconds left. It stunned the Spurs but not LeBron James, who had 32 points to go - with 10 rebounds and 10 assists - for the Heat. James described last night's game this way.
LEBRON JAMES: It was, by far, the best game I've ever been a part of.
PESCA: It was James' dominant fourth quarter that made the comeback possible. And the key to his newfound grit might have had something to do with James' atypically unadorned forehead. Since James' rookie year, he has relied on a headband for the purposes of sweat absorption and camouflaging some man-child pattern baldness. But playing without a headband, James came alive.
It fell off, accidentally, in the fourth quarter. He kept it off and would ultimately score 18 fourth-quarter and overtime points. After the game, Heat forward Shane Battier brought up, but then brushed aside, the comparison to another totemic item that caused a character to take flight.
SHANE BATTIER: I don't think that his headband's, you know, like the feather in Dumbo. You know, but ... (Laughter)... we want that aggressive LeBron.
PESCA: But the fact was, James entered the third quarter shooting an anemic three-of-nine, and finished the game an assertive 11-of-26 with yet another triple double. James and his teammates are drained but joyous. Spurs forward Manu Ginobili and his teammates are just drained
MANU GINOBILI: I have no clue how we're going to be re-energized. I'm devastated. But we have to. I mean, there's no Game 8 afterwards.
PESCA: No, it's the sevens that are wild. And Game 7 should be a fitting climax after an unpredictable Game 6 that had players making shots after shoes fell off, after headbands fell off, and after the NBA actually began roping the arena in yellow tape to prepare for a post game trophy ceremony. Ceremony be damned, drama was served. The final act is Thursday night.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.