The Shot That Changed Everything found the perfect hands. Nobody who ever played basketball has made more three-point baskets than Ray Allen, after all. You know how shooters say they are sure the moment the ball leaves their hands if the shot is good? That they know it by instinct and feel?
Allen has never been one of those seers.
He had no idea, just like the rest of us, as his shot in the closing seconds of regulation floated in the air for those moments that felt like forever.
“You get the ball in the air and you become numb, because you don’t know,” he was saying Wednesday, reliving it. “The ball has a mind of its own at that point.”
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His own family tried to get Ray to confide that he knew all along his shot would make a downtown arena erupt, send the game into overtime and save the Heat’s season.
“Nope. I never pre-celebrate,” he told them. “Seen too many shots that felt good rattle the rim and go out.”
This one caressed the nylon net, sent South Florida into paroxysms of joy, and led us right back by the bay for Thursday’s night winner-take-all Game 7 of these NBA Finals.
“The moment is going to be grand,” said LeBron James.
We still marvel at how it came to be. Players explain the capriciousness of their sport by referring to “the basketball gods.” I never thought they existed. Now I do.
Now I believe they were hovering over the arena toward the end of Tuesday’s Game 6 as midnight rolled in, and they were smiling down. They were dressed in all white. One had tattoos and a Mohawk. It looked like the other was wearing LeBron James’ discarded headband.
Even Heat players could hardly believe the small miracle that had occurred.
“We were laughing at some of the things that happened,” said Shane Battier. “An historic finish.”
Torture and ecstasy and torture and ecstasy.
Said LeBron: “In my own household my wife was like, ‘Would you please stop doing that to me!’ ”
Fractions of an inch. Slivers of a second. Chris Bosh’s fingertips brushing an opponent’s shot. A three-pointer that does not rattle the rim or go out, but instead makes you believe in magic.
These are the things that changed everything.
LeBron’s huge fourth quarter made it possible, but still, if Allen’s desperation shot is anything but perfect — if a confluence of many small things doesn’t happen — then everything changes.
These are the things that made Wednesday a buoyant look-ahead for a confident Heat team, instead of a sudden media post-mortem on a still-warm body.
These are the things that allowed a repeat-championship and the notion of a dynasty to still be in play today, instead of the conversation veering darkly to the future of the Big 3 and whether the whole blueprint will be torched.
These are the things that provided LeBron the luxury to talk about something silly on this bridge-day to Game 7 — like playing without a headband — instead of being forced to explain what went wrong and if it was his fault and whether his legacy was ruined and so forth and so on.
A headband! Imagine.
His trademark apparatus got knocked late in the game and he didn’t put it back on and it became such a topic of debate that “#NoHeadband” soon was trending on Twitter.
Wednesday LeBron afforded the headband a human pronoun when asked if he would wear it in Thursday’s championship game.
“I’ll probably start off with it, man. I’m a little superstitious,” he said. “If it gets knocked off, then me and him will have a discussion if he will return.”
Teammates were invited to delve into the Headband Issue.
“It’s sort of like Dumbo and the feather,” he said. “The power’s not in the headband. The power’s in LeBron James.”
The Heat is well aware what it put its fans through Tuesday night. They were living it, after all. You thought it was tough up in Section 106. Imagine being at center court?
“Emotionally taxing,” Bosh called.
Everybody is exhausted, physically and mentally, but, “Fatigue is not an option,” as Battier said.
“I’m hurting,” said LeBron. “It doesn’t matter.”
Both of Dwyane Wade’s knees are aching now. “I’ll be fine,” he said.
This will be only the ninth playoff Game 7 at home in the history of the Heat, Marlins or Panthers, but only the second that was winner-take-all for the championship.
The only other ultimate 7 was on Oct. 26, 1997, Marlins vs. Indians for the World Series crown.
We loved the Marlins then; that was historic. But in some ways this Game 7 feels even bigger, more momentous. The Marlins were a fifth-year franchise just happy to be there. There is more to lose this time. A dynasty, LeBron James … maybe there is ALL that to lose.
Game 7’s also are rare in NBA Finals history. This will be only the 18th ever, and only the sixth since 1978.
Somebody jokingly asked Battier Wednesday if this was a “must-win.”
It’s only the ultimate one.
Battier leavened the gravity of the situation by quoting a Star Wars character (though thankfully not imitating the character’s voice):
“In the immortal words of Yoda,” he said, “Do or do not. There is no ‘try.’ ”
Win and be champion, or lose and be devastated.
The Heat fashioned one of the biggest, most memorable and best nights in South Florida sports history here Tuesday night.
Now all they have to do is do it again, if it isn’t too much to ask.