MIAMI (AP) -- Game 7s do more than settle championships. They define legacies.
No matter what happens Thursday night, LeBron James and the Miami Heat, and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs have already won NBA titles and secured a place in history.
Now is their opportunity to elevate it.
The truly memorable teams won the hard way, and that will be the case for the one celebrating at center court this time. It's either a Heat repeat, possible only after James led them back from what seemed certain elimination in the closing seconds of Game 6, or the Spurs shaking off as gut-wrenching a loss as a team can have to become just the fourth club to win a Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road.
"As a competitor you love it, because you know you have an opportunity and it's up to you," Heat guard Ray Allen said. "We have a chance in our building to make something great. All of our legacies are tied to this moment, this game. It's something our kids will be able to talk about that they were a part of. Forever will remember these moments, so we want to not live and have any regrets."
Allen played in the game the last time the NBA's season went down to the very last day, the Boston Celtics fading at the finish and falling 83-79 to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. That made home teams 14-3 in finals Game 7s, with no road team winning since Washington beat Seattle in 1978.
Overcoming those odds, not to mention the NBA's winningest team, would make this more memorable than the Spurs' previous four titles, though this is a franchise that never dwells too much on the past or looks too far into the future.
All that matters is now.
"You know what, it's all about just winning the title. It's not about situation or what has led up to it," Duncan said. "It's a great story for everybody else, but we're here for one reason, one reason only: It's to try to win this game (Thursday). We have had a very good season thus far, and I think we just want to get to the game more than anything. We just want to see what happens and be able to leave everything out there."
The teams trudged back to the arena Wednesday, some 12 hours after the Heat pulled out a 103-100 overtime victory in Game 6 to even the series. The Spurs, five points ahead with 28 seconds left in regulation, had to fight off fatigue and heartbreak, insisting neither would linger into Thursday.
By far the best game of this series, Game 6 immediately took its place among the best finishes in finals history, with everything from James' triple-double to Allen's tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation.
It had close calls, debatable decisions, and the NBA's best player at his very best when his team needed him most.
Games 2-5 in the series had been ugly, but that one was a beauty.
"I think - I know - that game will go down as one of the best finals games that's been seen," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "But I think this series will go down as being one of the most competitive, bizarre series that's been seen. So this is what you pay for to watch. You pay to watch two great teams battle to the very, very end, and that's what we'll do (Thursday). It will be to the very last second."
The Heat could become the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2010. James and Chris Bosh moved to Miami to join Wade a few weeks later and they are in the finals for the third time in three chances.
But playing for titles is more expected than celebrated now in Miami, and a 66-win season that included a 27-game winning streak - and perhaps the whole Big Three era - goes down as a failure if the Heat fall Thursday. Yet James said he doesn't need the victory to validate his decision to take his talents to South Beach.
"I mean, I need it because I want it and I only came here - my only goal is to win championships," he said. "I said it, this is what I came here for. This is what I wanted to be a part of this team for."
He, Wade and Bosh are going for No. 2, while San Antonio is getting a second shot at what would be a fourth together for Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. All their years together have given the Spurs' trio the belief they can bounce back from Tuesday's collapse.
The team went to dinner after the game, Duncan figuring that was better than guys sitting alone with their thoughts in their rooms. Parker and Boris Diaw discussed a similar situation with the French national team in the 2005 European championships, when they blew a late lead against Greece in the semifinals but then came back to beat Spain for the bronze medal.
"We just have to be positive and forget Game 6," Parker said. "It was a great opportunity, but that's life. It's basketball and everybody will be ready."
So will James, who was planning a relaxing night with family and friends Wednesday. He has the most at stake in the game, and when it's over he'll be either a two-time NBA Finals MVP or a two-time loser in a Heat uniform.
"I want to go down as one of the greatest. I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams. And we have an opportunity to do that," James said. "Hasn't been many teams to win back-to-back championships. It's so hard. It's the hardest thing. I said last year it was the hardest thing I've ever done, winning my first. Last year don't even come close to what we've gone through in this postseason and in these finals.
"So I'll be there (Thursday) night. I'm going to give it my all."
The Spurs have never lost in the finals, but they've never faced a situation quite like this. They won a Game 7 for the 2005 championship, but that victory over Detroit was at home. The last five finals that went the distance all went to the home team.
"I don't really care what it's been like for anybody else at any time," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "All I know is we have had a hell of a year and we have an opportunity to win a championship. That's all that matters."
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Edwin Jackson believes he knows what ailed him at the start of his tenure with the Chicago Cubs.
"Earlier, I felt like I was kind of mechanical, kind of too much in a bubble," he said. "You have to go back to having fun."
The Cardinals kept Jackson from having much fun in his bid for a third straight victory. Yadier Molina hit his fifth home run and Jake Westbrook (2-3) pitched seven innings of two-hit ball in the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night.
Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs in the offseason and promptly dropped his first five decisions and started 1-8 overall as his ERA ballooned to 6.29. In his past three starts, however, both he and manager Dale Sveum have seen a major difference in his approach.
"He's pitching with more conviction," Sveum said. "(Wednesday's) velocity wasn't like it was, but everything is going a heck of a lot better than the first half of his starts."
Jackson (3-9) was pulled after he hit Jon Jay following Molina's blast to left field. He pitched 5 1-3 innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits. He struck out one and walked two. His ERA is down to 5.49
He was pleased with his performance and wasn't even unhappy with the ball that Molina homered on.
"I thought it was a pretty good pitch, but either he was looking for it or he guessed right or it was right in his zone," Jackson said. "Either way, he hit it for a home run. But I threw my pitch with conviction and it was the pitch I wanted to throw. Sometimes it happens in a game."
Molina admitted to being surprised by his blast.
"Sometimes you get lucky," he said. "That was lucky."
Westbrook worked around trouble almost the entire night in his second start since coming off the disabled list with a sore elbow. He gave up no earned runs, striking out two and walking three.
Edward Mujica pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 21st save in 21 attempts.
Westbrook said if he voted for MVP, his battery mate would certainly get the nod.
"With the way he's been hitting, but more importantly the way he's handled us as a staff and the way we've been pitching," Westbrook said. "He, in my mind, is the reason for that."
Molina is hitting .365 and is pulling away from the field. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, who is on the disabled list, is second at .347. Molina is just outside of the top 10 in RBIs (41). He's also helped the Cardinals pitching staff post the major league's second-best ERA (3.28).
Allen Craig reached in the fifth after second baseman's Darwin Barney's throw on the back end of a double-play attempt went to the Cardinals dugout. Molina drove a 1-2 pitch just over the outfield wall to improve to 9 of 15 with three homers against Jackson.
Jay went to third on a hit-and-run with Daniel Descalso singling to right and scored on a hit from Pete Kozma to give St. Louis a 4-1 lead.
Westbrook retired the Cubs in order in the first and seventh innings, allowing at least one runner to reach in the five innings between. He faced the minimum in three of those five innings. Two runners were erased on inning-ending double plays and Luis Valbuena was caught stealing on a pitchout for the first out of the third.
"He was good," Molina said of Westbrook. "That sinker was moving a lot."
The pitcher lasted just five innings in his return Friday at Miami, giving up five runs (three earned) on eight hits in a loss.
"I felt good," Westbrook said. "I was throwing a really good sinker, tonight. I was locating it a lot better than the last start."
Anthony Rizzo opened the second with a single and went to third when second baseman Matt Carpenter's throw to start a potential double play sailed over the Kozma's head and into leftfield. Rizzo tagged up on a sacrifice fly from Barney and scored after knocking the ball out of Molina's glove.
Carpenter singled to start the first and scored on Craig's hit to center.
NOTES: The Cardinals earned at least a split of the four-game series. ... Jackson's exit with one out in the fifth snapped a five-game streak in which the Cubs' rotation recorded a quality start and a seven-game stretch in which it went at least six innings. ... Craig is hitting .431 with runners in scoring position. ... Rizzo's single in the second ended a 0-10 streak. ... Molina was assessed with his third error of the year for dropping the ball in the second and allowing Ryan Sweeney and Welington Castillo to advance. He had three all of last season. ... Major League Baseball made two scoring changes from the Cardinals' game June 11 at the New York Mets. It rewarded Molina a double rather than an error as originally scored and changed an error assessed to 3B David Freese to a hit for David Wright.
BOSTON (AP) -- After struggling for more than 120 minutes to score even once, the Blackhawks beat Boston goalie Tuukka Rask a half-dozen times in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals to send the series back to Chicago tied two games apiece.
Now that's an Original Six.
Brent Seabrook's slap shot 9:51 into overtime gave the Blackhawks a 6-5 victory on Wednesday night, restoring the home-ice advantage to the Western Conference champions. Game 5 is Saturday night in Chicago, with Game 6 back in Boston on Monday.
"I guess it was just our turn to score again," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who had a goal and an assist in the back-and-forth game in which Boston come back to tie the score three times. "It was a fun game to play. ... I'm sure the fans enjoyed that, for sure."
It was the third overtime game in the matchup of Original Six franchises, but it bore little resemblance to the three tightly contested games that opened the series. The teams combined for five goals in the second period - as many as in Games 2 and 3 combined - as Chicago bounced back from its first shutout of the season with its most prolific output of the playoffs.
Bryan Bickell and Michal Rozsival had two assists apiece for Chicago, which had scored only five goals total in the first three games of the series and hadn't gotten the puck past Rask in more than 129 minutes coming into Game 4. Corey Crawford made 28 saves, coughing up the lead three times.
"They keep coming," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "One of those nights."
Patrice Bergeron scored twice and Zdeno Chara and Jaromir Jagr each had two assists for Boston, which has won 11 of 14 playoff games; the three losses have all been in overtime.
Rask made 41 saves but he was screened by Jonathan Toews on the game-winner, which quickly quieted the building where Boston had earned a dominating, 2-0 victory two nights earlier - the only Blackhawks' shutout of the season.
"One of the things we have talked about, get pucks to the net," said Seabrook, a defenseman who also had the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. "I just tried getting it on net, we had a great screen in front. ... It just found a way."
The Blackhawks led 1-0, 4-2 and 5-4, but each time the Bruins evened it up. The last, just 55 seconds after Chicago took the lead, came when Johnny Boychuk slapped it over a sliding Johnny Oduya with 7:46 left in regulation.
Boychuk, who had never scored more than five goals in a season, has six in the postseason.
"It wasn't a Bruins' type of game, but at the same time you have to get yourself back into it," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Our guys worked hard to score goals. Probably got ourselves out of what our normal game plan is. So we opened up and we scored goals, but we also gave them some goals, like the game-winning goal."
The overtime was even until the Bruins failed to clear the zone, and the Blackhawks got the puck to Seabrook at the right point. What seemed like a harmless shot eluded Rask, and the Blackhawks followed with a subdued celebration at the end of another long night.
"If he sees the puck, he's going to be almost impossible to beat," Quenneville said. "We want to make sure we get there and make it hard on him to find it, try to go on the second and third opportunity. Nice ending with traffic in the net, Seabs having a shot that tied us up."
The Bruins had trailed for under 60 minutes total of the almost 900 minutes they had played in the postseason. But the Blackhawks came out strong early in this one, recording the first seven shots and taking a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal when Oduya was off for interference early in the first period.
Brandon Saad picked Tyler Seguin clean in the defensive zone and brought the puck down the ice before flipping it across to Michal Handzus, who rattled it in off the post to make it 1-0. That snapped Rask's shutout streak that dated to the first period of Game 2, but the lead didn't last for long.
None of them did.
The Bruins tied it on the power play when Andrew Ference kept the puck in at the blue line, and Rich Peverley finished it off with a wrist shot.
But it was in the second period that the teams really opened things up.
Toews tipped in Rozsival's shot to put the Blackhawks back in the lead with 6 1/2 minutes gone. Just over two minutes later, Chicago took its first two-goal lead of the series when Kane converted a rebound to make it 3-1.
It stayed that way for six minutes before Milan Lucic deflected Chara's shot into Crawford and then put back his own rebound to make it a one-goal game. Forty-nine seconds later, Kruger stuck with the puck until he had poked it past Rask and into the net to make it 4-2.
That's when Boston got some luck.
Chara's shot from the center of the blue line deflected off Crawford's left shoulder and over the net, where it hit the back wall, bounced back onto the top of the net and landed in the slot, right in front of Bergeron. He chipped it in to make it 4-3, then tied it two minutes into the third.
"You think you have a good lead at 3-1 and they made it 3-2. Then we had 4-2 and they scored on the power play," Kane said. "It was back and forth the whole game but a fun game to play."
Patrick Sharp gave Chicago a 5-4 lead with 8:41 left in regulation - on an assist from Marian Hossa, who missed Game 3 with an undisclosed injury - but it lasted only 55 seconds before Boychuk tied it.
Notes: Bruins Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, who also played briefly for Chicago, was in the crowd, waving a yellow towel in support of the Bruins. ... Boston killed 29 consecutive penalties dating to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, including the first 13 Chicago opportunities of the finals. ... The Blackhawks had the first seven shots of the game despite a penalty that left them short-handed. ... Jagr assisted on both goals by Bergeron, giving the 1999 NHL MVP 199 career postseason points. He is fifth all-time. ... Midway through the first, Boston's Shawn Thornton hit the scoreboard when he lofted the puck out of the zone.