MIAMI — LeBron James started to get up out of his chair after the postgame press conference, and it took him three tries to do it.
“I’ll get it,” he said, sheepishly as he finally got his momentum going enough to peel himself out of the chair.
The looks of exhaustion and pain were all over everyone’s faces following the epic NBA Finals Game 6 between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.
James played 50 of the 53 total minutes to rally the Heat to an overtime victory that evened the series at three games apiece.
Tim Duncan, the 37-year-old Spurs centerpiece, played more than 44 minutes, and even Ray Allen topped 40 minutes for just the second time all season.
Somehow, some way, after leaving everything they had on that AmericanAirlines Arena court in Miami’s 103-100 thriller of a victory, the Heat and Spurs are going to have to find one last reservoir of untapped energy to play an even bigger game in less than 48 hours.
The deciding Game 7 awaits Thursday, and there’s no time to be tired now.
“You’ve got two teams that are fighting for an NBA championship,” James said. “Not only are they going all the way, taking the tank all the way down to ‘E,’ they’re also using their reserve tank.”
Duncan, who has spent the last couple of seasons reshaping his body and getting leaner so he could withstand the kind of punishment he put himself through on Tuesday night, had 30 points in the first three quarters as he pushed the Spurs to a 10-point lead. But he went 0 for 5 and grabbed just three boards in the final 17 minutes of game time as James carried the Heat back into it.
James said he asked coach Erik Spoelstra to use a few of the Heat’s timeouts as the game wore on to try and give him a little extra rest here and there, giving him a precious few moments to catch his breath and gear up for the manic effort on both ends of the floor that it took to bring the Heat all the way back.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he didn’t think fatigue played a factor in Duncan’s finish. The big man did play 44 minutes in a win over Memphis in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals and 42 in a loss to Golden State in the semifinals.
“Tim is no more tired than anybody else,” Popovich said.
That’s not saying much. Both teams trudged off the court at game’s end, their bodies aching and their heads swimming from a game that tested their limits from both a mental and physical standpoint.
“It was very exhausting all around,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “Physically and emotionally and mentally.”
Both teams are likely to take it easy in practice Wednesday in an effort to conserve their energy and refocus for one more championship-deciding game.
“It’s the last game of the season,” James said. “You have to muster up all the energy that you might have. It’s not about X’s and O’s at this point. They know what we’re running and we know what they’re running. ... It’s about getting stops defensively, staying in it mentally, not turning the ball over and making a few shots.”
For the Spurs, who were 28 seconds away from their fifth championship before James and Allen hit 3-pointers to send it into overtime, putting the disappointment behind them may be as important as resting their weary bodies.
“I have no clue how we’re going to be re-energized,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “I’m devastated. But we have to. There’s no Game 8 afterwards. We’re going to have to play our best game, even better than today.”
Heat star Dwyane Wade hobbled through the game on two gimpy knees, gutting through 36 hard minutes. But when the lights come on and the ball is tossed in the air for the opening tip, he has no doubt that he’ll be ready for one more game.
“I’ve never wanted to play a Game 7 so bad,” Wade said. “When you’re out there and you’re losing, you will do anything to get to that next game and this is what it’s about. The two best teams in the NBA have to fight it out in a Game 7. ... It’s going to be a great game. You will have two teams that won’t give up until the very end.”
The Heat have to have the advantage playing at home. Allen played in the last Game 7 of an NBA Finals, when his Boston Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on the road in 2010, and he remembers hitting a wall in that game similar to the one the Spurs hit in Game 6.
“There was just a thickness in the air where everything seemed like it was against you,” Allen said. “We even had a lead coming into the fourth quarter and just ran out of gas. That’s where when you play in front of your home building, it gives you so much momentum and that energy coming down in the fourth quarter. And we’re going to look to feed off that energy coming down in the fourth quarter.”