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Heat face final defining moment Thursday

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The Heat have found themselves on the ropes several times over the last two seasons -- including in Game 6 of this Finals series. Will Miami respond in Game 7 Thursday night with a brilliant performance, as it has before?

Mike Ehrmann

Over the last two years, the Miami Heat have stared down so many defining moments. So many tests. So many games that, if the Heat had lost, questions would've inevitably arisen about the very core of this team.

It started earlier than expected last year, with Miami facing the possibility of going down 3-1 against the Indiana Pacers during the second round. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- coming off his worst career playoff performance and a well-publicized spat with Erik Spoelstra -- dominated the second half of Game 4, and Udonis Haslem made four clutch jumpers in the final six minutes to stave off Indiana. The Heat players then found themselves down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. But James went into the Celtics' house and played one of his best games ever, going an unreal 19-of-26 from the field for 45 points and 15 rebounds to force a decisive Game 7. Miami and Boston were tied after three quarters in that Game 7; plays like this deep James 3-pointer helped the Heat advance to the Finals.

The Indiana Pacers took Miami to seven games in the last round. With their season on the line, the Heat put together a masterful performance on both ends of the courts to dispose of the Pacers in blowout fashion and advance to the Finals for the third consecutive time. The Heat have faced two such tests in this series. The first one came in Game 4, with the Heat needing to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole against the San Antonio Spurs. Reminiscent of the 2012 Game 4 second-round series against the Pacers, James and Wade each scored more than 30 points. Chris Bosh added 20 points and 13 rebounds for Miami to tie the series.

And Miami's last test came Tuesday night. Somehow, the Heat overcame a 13-point deficit late in the third quarter and three turnovers in the last 90 seconds. Miami was down by five with 28 seconds left, but came up with offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions to knock down two 3s. The second one came with just 5.2 seconds left in regulation, effectively saving the Heat's season. After saying that Danny Green wouldn't be open in Game 6, Bosh blocked a desperation heave from Green as time expired in overtime.

Again and again, the Heat players have found themselves on the ropes. And again and again, they respond. Thursday night, the Heat have one last test for the season. One game will determine whether the Heat players are back-to-back champions or a team that has lost in two of the last three Finals. A Miami win would cement the this incarnation of the Heat as a truly resilient team, one that always finds its way out of danger. It would validate the 27-game win streak and begin discussions of where the 2012-13 Heat group ranks as one of the all-time great teams. But so much hinges on this 48-minute game. Enjoy it.