Can your pounding heart and racing mind stand one more of these, South Florida? Will your boss tolerate another couple days of frazzled distraction and low productivity?
The Heat and its gut-wrenched fans survived one of the most important nights in franchise history here Tuesday night, survived one of the most pressure-drenched occasions we have ever seen in South Florida sports – and yes, survived is the word.
Now comes the big game.
Now comes all that matters.
The appetizer was enough to churn the stomach and leave it in knots.
What’s left, what’s next, will leave you either feeling so satisfied you can barely believe it, or so empty that you ache.
Miami rallied desperately to beat the San Antonio Spurs, 103-100 in overtime here Tuesday to push these NBA Finals all the way to the end, and I’m not sure if the fans spilling in the deep night of Miami past midnight were closer to exhilarated, or simply exhausted.
Or maybe just spent. Or numb.
“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” said a pretty fair witness by the name of LeBron James. “The emotions. The roller coaster. Just our mental toughness to make it look like the game was almost out of our hands, and then to be victorious.”
This postseason run has embodied all of that. It has been draining, an undulating drama of building emotion. It isn’t always easy being a fan, is it?
Now comes one of the rarest delights in basketball: a Finals Game 7, only the sixth one of these the NBA has had since 1985.
“Best two words in team sports,” as coach Erik Spoelstra put it. “Game 7.”
Especially when you work like the Heat did to get to it.
If what we just saw to get to Thursday wasn’t a sporting miracle, it was close enough for delirious, swooning Miami.
The Heat trailed by 10 points entering the fourth quarter. It looked like the end of it all. Discreetly, NBA officials had begun preparing for the postgame championship ceremony – the one that would happen Tuesday only if the Spurs were the winners.
That annoyed Heat players.
It should have.
“That pissed me off,” said Chris Bosh.
“It kind of did the same to all of us,” said LeBron. “That’s why you play the game ‘til the final buzzer.”
Around that time something absolutely remarkable happened to change everything.
LeBron James happened.
He played the first three quarters struggling and frustrated. He was 3-for-12 shooting. It was shades of his failed Finals in 2011 vs. Dallas, and you know that his national media critics were sharpening knives.
Then he took over the game.
Then he saved the season.
Then he saved everything.
“It’s a terrible burden for one guy,” said Ray Allen.
Suddenly, LeBron was the MVP he is, the best player in the sport, in his prime, in his element, in his zone.
He scored 18 points in the telling fourth quarter and overtime. At one point his trademark headband was knocked off. No matter. What he was doing when it mattered most replaced the headband with a halo.
“If we were going to go down now, tonight, we’re gonna do it with me leaving everything on the floor,” James said afterward. “I think losing the headband at that point was the least of my worries.”
(A Twitter site paying homage to LeBron’s headband bloomed. It had approached 5,000 followers when last I checked).