The basketball gets tossed up Tuesday night for Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Miami, and anything happens next. Everything happens, actually. The previous five games tell us that. Miracles? Meltdowns? Heartache? Heartstrings?
That's the beauty of a sports moment of this consequence. It's also the pain. Because never has a Heat team that has been good-bordering-great much of the season been as vulnerable as now.
If the Heat win Game 6, if they play like they always can and sporadically have this series, South Florida will careen back toward normality as they send the season to its last possible night, a defining Game 7, where 14 out 17 times the home team has won.
But lose this Game 6 and basketball hell breaks loose over this team. National smirking. Legacy shifting. Surely players leaving. Maybe a coaching change. Lose and, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to say before games, "Everything's on the table."
That's the unstable template everyone in two regions stands on. After wins in Game 3 and 5, Spurs fans drove through downtown San Antonio honking horns deep into the next morning and causing such gleeful gridlock police stationed patrol cars with flashing lights to monitor the scene.
And after Game 4's San Antonio loss? No horns. No traffic. That's the intersection we're at in this season. Silence or beadlam. It's reactive basketball schizophrenia everywhere, over anything, including the sudden idea San Antonio's Gregg Popovich is outcoaching Spoelstra.
Think back a few nights. After Game 4, with his team down in the series and moving down the gangplank with another loss, Spoelstra juggled his lineup, causing a domino effect of change on both teams, and won the game. Genius!
In Game 5, Popovich juggled his lineup back and got the best game of Manu Ginobili's entire season (he hadn't scored his 24 points all year and had two games better than his 10 assists). Spoelstra suddenly became an idiot.
See how this sports amusement ride staggers? See how everyone runs from one side of the room one night to the other side the next night?
The Heat can't be beat. The Heat can't win. Ginobili is too old. Ginobili has the heart of a lion. LeBron James is the best player in the game. LeBron James isn't playing like the best player.
Everyone knows San Antonio's surprising story even with three future Hall of Fame players. The truth is no one entered this series thinking San Antonio was as much a great team as the remnant of one.
This is why, out of all the Heat, this moment provides LeBron the greatest opportunity to remind everyone why he's the best player and biggest star in the game.
The game's top talent, returning home for potentially two games, is a recipe the Heat should welcome now. But LeBron's game has been as uncharacteristically unstable as his teammates this series.
It eludes the hard grasp of greatness, from one game to the next, that is expected to be part of his legacy by this point. No player has more riding on this ending. Win, and he has two titles at 28, and his story will be framed as him ascending to greatness. Lose, and he is 1-3 in Final series, a lead conversation point about him.
Already, the room is preparing to tilt one way or the other on him. After Sunday's loss, a question was asked as the Heat return home from Texas down in the series three games to two, just as they were in the 2011 Finals loss to Dallas, what he has learned.
"We're going to see if we're a better team than our first year together,'' he said.
The Heat lost that series as LeBron famously became lost in a suffocating trap of fame and pressure in that Game 6. All this time later - two years, one championship, one 27-game win streak – it's like no one's moved at all.
We're back there again. Same moment. Same stakes. The truth is LeBron, like the Heat, has graduated from that time in a manner that any rational framing would note.
But nothing will be rational now. It will be emotional, raw and savage, built only on a Game 6 result in the way that makes this sports reality show so intoxicating to watch.
Win, and Heat fans will feel the sports definition of pandemonium course through them. Lose, and it's heartbreak.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun