MIAMI (AP) — Mario Chalmers broke out of a shooting slump to score 10 points, lifting the Miami Heat to a 27-25 lead over the San Antonio Spurs after one quarter of Game 6 in the NBA Finals on Tuesday night.
LeBron James added five points, five assists and two rebounds for the Heat, who were down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series and needed a win to keep their hopes of defending their title alive.
Tim Duncan had 12 points and three rebounds and Kawhi Leonard scored eight points for the Spurs as they looked to close out the Heat and win their fifth title.
Game 7, if necessary, is on Thursday night in Miami.
Chalmers was 4 for 19 over his last three games, but came alive in this must-win for Miami. He made 4 of 6 shots, including two 3s, to get the Heat out quickly.
Tony Parker had four assists, but was quiet with just two points in the first quarter for San Antonio, which shot 61 percent.
Dwyane Wade seemed to tweak his left knee after being whistled for an offensive foul early in the first quarter, but he looked fine moments later when he dunked over Duncan to tie the game at 16.
Leonard responded by dunking on Mike Miller on the other end, and a scintilating first quarter was off and running.
After getting a vintage performance from Manu Ginobili in Game 5 to take control of the series, the Spurs got a throwback effort from Duncan to start Game 6. The big man threw down a dunk, hit a turnaround jumper and muscled a one-handed hook over Shane Battier — all while patrolling the paint on defense — to give the Spurs a 24-19 lead in the first eight minutes.
Then Chalmers hit a baseline jumper, Battier hit a 3 and Chalmers added another from deep to give the Heat a 27-24 lead.
Everything was on the line Tuesday night and it was easy to tell by the normally laid-back Heat crowd's full-throated howling at the outset.
The Spurs entered the game with title No. 5 sitting right there in front of them. A masterful performance by Ginobili at home in Game 5 gave them a 3-2 lead in the series, meaning they had two cracks at bringing the trophy back home to San Antonio.
But the last thing they wanted was to have to play a Game 7 against James on the road for the championship. There have only been five Game 7s in the finals since 1978, with the home team winning all those contests. The last road team to win a Game 7 for the title was the Washington Bullets over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1978.
The Heat, meanwhile, needed a win on their home floor to extend the series, and their hopes of earning a second straight title.
After a tightly played and compelling Game 1 that came down to the final two possessions, the Heat and Spurs have traded blowouts the rest of the way.
It's been 12 games since the Heat have won two in a row, a startling stretch of inconsistency for a team that won 27 straight in the regular season and figured to turn this postseason into a coronation rather than a competition.
But the short-handed Chicago Bulls put up an inspired fight in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Indiana Pacers took them the full seven in a rugged conference finals and the Spurs picked them apart in three of the first five games in this series.
For most of the last two months, the Heat have preferred to wait until they were in serious trouble before finding that extra gear that only they seem to have. Down 2-1 in the series, James, Wade and Bosh combined for 85 points to even the series.
It doesn't get any more serious than what the Heat faced when they walked into American Airlines Arena on Tuesday night.
One more uninspired performance from their three All-Stars, one more lazy night on defense, one more loss and the Heat were done for the season. The prospects of falling to 1-2 in NBA Finals appearances since James, Wade and Bosh united in 2010 loomed over a team that was constructed to win not just one title, but multiple crowns.
In the unflappable Spurs, the Heat may be facing their biggest challenge yet. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have teamed to win three championships, so they know what it takes to deliver in the finals. And youngsters like Green and Leonard have shown that even when LeBron and Co. flex their muscle, like they did in Games 2 and 4, they come right back at them.
For as much as James and the Heat had riding on this finals appearance, the Spurs may have even more. Duncan is 37, while Ginobili will soon turn 36 and is in the final year of his contract, giving the feeling that after so many premature proclamations of demise for this core group,
And the Spurs have played with the urgency and desperation that comes with those stakes. Game 5 was essentially a must-win for them if they wanted to avoid having to win the last two games of the finals on the road, something no team has ever done.