MIAMI — Even after the confetti fell and the champagne spilled, in the early moments of a Game 7 celebration, LeBron James couldn't forget Game 6.
The championship the Miami Heat won Thursday was almost lost two nights earlier. So when James remembers his second straight title, the save goes right along with the win.
"To be able to win that game and force a Game 7 is a true test of our, I guess, perseverance," James said, "and us being able to handle adversity through everything. It meant a lot for us to be able to do that and force a Game 7 and being able to close out at home."
Doing it that way, following a stunning comeback with a stirring victory, cemented a place with the NBA's giants for this Miami team and its leader.
"Last year when I was sitting up here with my first championship, I said it was the toughest thing I had ever done," James said. "This year, I'll tell last year he's absolutely wrong. This was the toughest championship right here between the two."
And the San Antonio Spurs will always know it's a title they let slip away.
James scored 37 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 95-88 victory Thursday night in a tense game that was tight until Miami pulled away in the final minute.
Capping their best season in franchise history — and perhaps the three-superstar system they used to build it — the Heat ran off with the second straight thriller in the NBA's first championship series to go the distance since 2010.
Two nights after his Game 6 save when the Heat were almost eliminated, James continued his unparalleled run through the basketball world, with two titles and an Olympic gold medal in the last 12 months.
"I work on my game a lot throughout the offseason," said James, who was MVP for the second straight finals. "I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out here and (have) the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate. The ultimate. I'm at a loss for words."
He made five 3-pointers, defended Tony Parker when he had to, and did everything else that could ever be expected from the best player in the game.
The Heat became the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2009-10, and the first team to beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
"It took everything we had as a team," Dwyane Wade said. "Credit to the San Antonio Spurs, they're an unbelievable team, an unbelievable franchise. This is the hardest series we ever had to play. But we're a resilient team and we did whatever it took."
Players and coaches hugged afterward — their respect for each other was obvious from the opening tipoff of Game 1 through the final buzzer.
A whisker away from a fifth title two nights earlier, the Spurs couldn't find a way to win it all in what was perhaps the last shot for Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili to grab another ring together.
"In my case I still have Game 6 in my head," Ginobili said. "Today we played an OK game, they just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane (Battier), too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and seeing it vanish is very hard."
They were trying to become the first team to win a Game 7 on the road since Washington beat Seattle in 1978, but those old guys ran out of gas just before the finish.
Fans stood, clapped and danced as the clock ticked down, when every score was answered by another score, each stop followed by a better stop. The Heat pushed their lead to six points a few times midway through the fourth but San Antonio kept coming back.