"It's a great opportunity for both teams -- for them to win it, and for us to force a Game 7, " he said Sunday night in San Antonio. "We got an opportunity to do something special."
If James is able to lead the Heat to a win here Tuesday in Game 6 on his way to defending their championship, then the difficult circumstances of the last month will surely have added to the reputation he began to establish one postseason ago. By leading Miami through two elimination games this week, he will have built on the platform he created last year with his sensational performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Boston, followed by Game 7 of the conference finals two weeks ago against Indiana.
The opportunity is there for James to do something legendary. The question is whether San Antonio is more worthy of the legend.
"We understand that Miami is going to come out with a lot of energy and they're going to play better at home," Spurs point guard Tony Parker said. "They're going to shoot the ball better. Their crowd is going to be behind them. For us, you need to finish as soon as you can. We did that [in the previous rounds] against the Lakers and Golden State and Memphis. So hopefully we can do the same thing."
The reasons for ending the series sooner than later are obvious. Parker, 31, has admitted that his strained right hamstring could tear at any moment. He and his elder teammates -- the 35-year-old Manu Ginobili and 37-year-old Duncan -- could be facing fatigue issues if Miami is able to force a Game 7, which would amount to a third game in five days, and another one at AmericanAirlines Arena.
As this series has progressed, the defensive burdens have increased for Miami. Ginobili had been silent for much of the series before exploding for a season-high 24 points and 10 assists as a starter in Game 5. In the meantime, Danny Green has remained a persistent threat while setting an NBA Finals record with 25 three-pointers already. He has converted his 38 attempts at a preposterous 65.8 percent -- an unmistakable sign of the Heat's failure to respect him as a threat.
"I can't believe he's still open at this moment of this series," Parker said. "They are still trapping me and doubling Timmy, and Danny is wide open. If you are going to leave Danny wide open, he's going to make threes."
Parker was openly daring the Heat to alter their strategy and commit more defensive resources against Green, which would surely create more space for Green's teammates. The Heat sounded as if they were ready to take the bait.
"That will be something that we have to correct, and we've just got to do it better," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Got to do it harder, and be more committed. He's getting some open looks, and he's making some contested looks. But the open looks are the ones that are killing us."
The Heat will consider returning forward Udonis Haslem to the lineup ahead of his replacement, Mike Miller, who is 0-of-2 from the field in 46 scoreless minutes since starting in Game 4. The problem for Miami is that the Spurs are more versatile in terms of lineups, with Boris Diaw having emerged in recent games to create offense while providing another way to defend James. The decision to start Miller prompted San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to start Ginobili, who burst out of his slump in the opening minutes of Game 5.
The most impressive Spur throughout the Finals has been second-year forward Kawhi Leonard, who has led his team's defense against James while supplying rebounding and scoring. He is one of several Spurs who could step forward in case Green is unable to sustain his torrid shooting.
Throughout this series, the Spurs have spoken of Miami's gambling defense. The all-or-nothing goal of the Heat has been to force turnovers and take the ball away before it can find Green and the other shooters in the corners. The Heat have had their best moments when turnovers have led to easy baskets in transition.
In Game 5, however, the Spurs were able to survive their 19 turnovers by getting back defensively to challenge James in transition and limit Miami to 20 points off those turnovers. The Spurs were outscored 18-16 in transition.
"We still had too many turnovers," Duncan said. "But we shot the ball a lot better, moved the ball a lot better. We moved their defense very well and we had a lot of guys attacking and making shots. So if we're going to turn the ball over that much, we have to play as well as we did [in Game 5]. We can't expect to shoot that well in every game. But we just need one more."
One more win, he meant.
Miami will be seeking a third straight productive game from Dwyane Wade, who generated 25 points and 10 assists Sunday. James, Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen combined for 87 points. Add that to the turnovers they generated, and they might have assumed that they would be up 3-2 in the Finals. But they failed to account for Ginobili, Green and the overall balance of the Spurs, who received at least 16 points from all five starters.
The Heat understand their predicament from both sides. They lost the 2011 Finals by losing Game 6 here to Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks, and they avoided elimination by winning the last two games of the conference finals last year -- though that Celtics team was depleted by injury and not nearly as qualified as these Spurs.
"We challenge ourselves to see if we're a better team than we [were]," Wade said of the Heat's miserable 2011 experience. "We're in the same position going back home with Game 6 on our home floor. So we're going to see if we're a better ballclub and if we're better prepared for this moment."
"He said it," James said. "We're going to see if we're a better team than we were our first year together."
Both the Heat and the Spurs are going to approach this game Tuesday as if it were a Game 7. But only one team wants to experience a seventh game for real.