The team with 22 wins all season looked like it was ready to end the Heat’s 23-game winning streak, the second longest streak in NBA history. And you can bet Cleveland, spurned by LeBron James when he decided to leave the Cavaliers during free agency in 2010, loved every minute of it.
Then, the Heat locomotive, led by engineer James, started rolling, and subsequently steamrolled the Cavaliers.
Miami overcame its largest deficit during the streak and defeated the Cavaliers 98-95, extending its streak to 24 games, nine wins shy of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record of 33 wins in a row.
“We had to dig deep for this one,” James told Fox Sports Florida after the game. “This is a gut performance by our team, and I was happy my teammates were able to come through for me.”
Naturally, James was at the center of it. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has said numerous times that his team wants to win when it plays a Heat player’s former team.
James, who has played extremely well in every game he has played in Cleveland with Miami, took matters into his own hands. After scoring just six points in the first half, James scored 19 in the second half and finished with 25. He added 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his second triple-double in four games as a visitor at Cleveland. He also had three steals and two blocks, for good measure.
“They came out and hit us upside our head and built that huge lead,” James said. “We made a run. We started playing Miami Heat defense, we started executing and started knocking down some shots.”
An fluid leak from the scoreboard above center court delayed the tip-off for 35 minutes. The Cavs came out strong and the Heat started flat, falling behind 55-33 in the second quarter and 66-40 in the third quarter.
Miami scored 10 points in the second quarter. It scored 30 in the final 8:05 of the third quarter, cut Cleveland’s lead to 77-68 and took over in the fourth quarter.
Now, large early deficits in the NBA are often meaningless, especially against great teams such as the Heat. Miami proved that Monday, overcoming a 17-point road deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 105-103.
The Heat did it again against Cleveland. Miami had some trouble with inferior opponents during the streak: 98-94 vs. the Philadelphia 76ers; 97-96 vs. the Orlando Magic, 141-129 vs. the Sacramento Kings in double overtime, 109-105 vs. Cleveland and 99-94 vs. the Charlotte Bobcats.
“Everyone team is going to give us a good shot, no matter their record,” James said. “No matter who’s out on the floor. They’re going to give their best. We should enjoy that. We should embrace that. It picks up our level of intensity as well. It’s good for us to dig down once again and get another road win.”
Sooner or later, these slow starts – if they continue – will catch up with Heat and the streak will end. Miami’s next three games are against some of the East’s worst teams: Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando, and if the Heat aren’t ready, one of those teams – possibly Orlando – can upset Miami.
As James eyes his potential free agency in 2014, it’s obvious tension between him and the Cavaliers has dissipated. The boos for James were mild, nothing like the vitriol spewed in Dec. 2, 2010 when James played his first game in Cleveland since joining Miami.
Asked earlier in the day about the possibility of returning to the Cavs one day, James told reporters, “Right now, I’m focusing on right now.”
Gilbert made a peace offering of sorts on Twitter before Wednesday’s game, tweeting, “Cleveland Cavaliers young talent makes our future very bright. Clearly, LeBron’s is as well. Time for everyone to focus on the road ahead.”
Reprinted from Usatoday