MIAMI -- For this game we all needed sweatbands, on our foreheads, our wrists, our armpits, everywhere but over our eyes. It was that emotionally draining and drenching and watchable for everyone.
How LeBron James survived without one when the Heat's season and part of his legacy was full of doubt, like those foolish fans who left prematurely, only the basketball gods know for sure. The NBA Finals did not end Tuesday night when the championship trophy was carried to the court and preparations were hastily made for a Spurs' ceremony with seconds left in regulation. The series is going seven games because Game 6 pushed the players, coaches and witnesses to their limit. And then, into overtime, where Miami decided it 103-100.
"It was by far the best game I've ever been a part of," said James, and who among us would disagree? He explained why: "The ups and downs, the roller-coaster, the emotions, the good and the bad throughout the game. This is something you would never be able to re-create."
And if you think Game 7 has a tough act to follow from a dramatic standpoint, imagine how tough it'll be for the Spurs to play. In 48 hours can they overcome perhaps the biggest collapse in NBA Finals history by a team in a position to clinch? Can a savvy team known and celebrated for being so poised and smart and composed deal with such an uncharacteristic choke? Can they simply dismiss the memory, just like that, of all the critical mistakes by coach Gregg Popovich, Manu Ginobili and really the entire team?
"It was a game of mistakes and they ended up on the winning side," said Popovich.
It's reasonable to believe the Spurs blew the best chance they'll ever have, because now they'll see a rejuvenated Heat team that rallied hard once LeBron lost and totally discarded his trademark head fabric, which is now the symbol of the Finals.
"You're in a situation in a closeout game and you have a lead like we did," said Tim Duncan. "It's just unfortunate we didn't take advantage of it."
For three-plus quarters the Spurs were locked in. This game, this championship, was theirs. Duncan had 25 points by halftime. Tony Parker was clutch late in the fourth, stabbing the Heat with a deep three-pointer, then a steal, then a basket. They absorbed a ballistic and spirited run by LeBron, who broke loose for 16 in the fourth. They were up five points with 28 seconds left while the court was being yellow roped off and the ceremony stage was ready to be wheeled in. And we're headed for a Game 7 because the finish was a jumble of big plays, poor plays, questionable coaching and lots of perspiration.
"The game of basketball is a funny thing," said Dwyane Wade. "That's why we love this game. It's unpredictable."
Kawhi Leonard was at the free-throw line, Spurs up two, with 20 seconds left. He missed the first, made the second, leaving the door open.
LeBron isolated from the key and took what was designed to be the final shot, a three-pointer. It caught iron. Chris Bosh -- barbequed his entire career for being softer than a grandmother's touch -- soared for the rebound in traffic and had the wherewithal to spot Ray Allen in the right corner.
Until this point, Allen had a miserable game: 0-for-4 through three quarters. And still, if you're the defense, he's the last guy you want with the ball and a sliver of daylight. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once said whenever Allen is left open, it's an "oh-bleep" moment, meaning, that's what the defense is muttering. Allen took a step backward, safely beyond the three-point stripe -- by inches, as it turned out -- and released quickly. All net, followed by all bedlam. Overtime.
A video review was required to make sure Allen's shot was a three. When he caught the ball and stepped backward, he did it by feel, by instinct. Even he didn't know for certain.
"I was hoping I was where I needed to be," Allen said. "I wasn't quite sure. But just from years of shooting, I got to my spot."
The Heat signed Allen for this very reason, and he earned his paycheck with the shot. In that situation … down three points … season on the line … clock ticking … everything happening at once … how many players could release so quickly and surely? How many could be so money?
"It's going to be a shot that I'll remember for a very long time," he said. "There's a lot of shots I've made in my career, but this will go up high in the rankings, because of the situation."
Bosh then blocked Parker late in OT, but after a Dwyane Wade miss, the Spurs had the ball and a chance to win, trailing by a point.
Manu Ginobili, after breaking free from his playoff slump with a solid Game 5, took the ball, raced downcourt, then tried to dribble through three defenders. Allen managed to get a hand on the ball, Ginobili lost it while rising for the layup. And after Allen made a pair of free throws, Bosh finished off the Spurs by blocking a game-tying three-point attempt by Danny Green, who'd set the NBA Finals record in this very series.
"We were a few seconds from winning a championship and we let it go," Ginobili said.
The collapse was a group effort, and that's why it was stunning to see from the Spurs. Popovich was so brilliant in Game 5, and then he helped bungle Game 6. He sat Duncan twice in the final 28 seconds of regulation when Miami rallied to tie. Parker inexplicably was on the bench for the last possession of OT, when the Spurs needed a steady hand. Instead, Ginobili tried to go through the entire Heat defense for the game-winner. Ginobili had eight turnovers, none bigger than the last one. And Duncan, after making 13 of his first 16 shots, missed his last five and turned to vapor.
But what a comeback by LeBron. He had three baskets in three quarters and was obviously pressing with his team trailing by 12. Well, he played the entire second half and OT and finished with a triple-double: 32 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds. And one missing headband.
It fell off with 8:23 left, after LeBron missed a layup. He thought he was fouled. No call. He ran downcourt without it, and after the next whistle, he never bothered to ask for it back. He immediately scored three layups and delivered a big block. It was an angry and naked LeBron, pushing himself without his headpiece, like Linus without his blanket.
"I've never seen him play without his headband since his rookie year," said Wade.
Well, that was about the last time his hairline was normal, so maybe there's a reason for that.
"I was just focused on the job, the task at hand and just trying to figure a way to get this team back into the game," James said. "I guess the headband was the least of my worries at that point."
All the worries belong to the Spurs, who now need a spatula to lift their confidence off the floor. They had it and lost it. The Heat took advantage and somehow won it. And now it's up to Game 7 to top it.
A series where nobody has won two straight is likely headed to a quirky conclusion. There's plenty of mystery about to follow the Heat and Spurs into Thursday night, none more gripping than this:
Headband or not for LeBron?