Heading into Thursday’s contest against the Los Angeles Lakers, I sort of caught the vibe that LeBron James was going to have himself a ball game.
This, despite the fact that Miami was on the end of a back-to-back following a win over Golden State, as well as it being the finale of an arduous six-game road trip, one that featured the Heat at 2-3 heading into the Staples Center and their date with the Lakers.
Miami Heat and Laker players alike were sluggish and couldn’t have consistent success on the offensive end. Well, all accept LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant if you want to count solely his fourth quarter. Because while every other Heat player was off the mark for the majority of the night–everyone outside of Wade and James shot a combined 12-of-38–the dynamic duo of Wade and James kept the Heat alive for the entirety of 48 minutes.
LeBron especially. 39 points on 17-of-25 shooting, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block in 42 minutes for James, who was as close to unstoppable as we’ve seen since his Game 6 against Boston. James took 16 of his 25 field-goal attempts in the paint, converting 15 of them. He converted all 13 of his field-goals from within five feet of the rim, including the first four points of the game which came off turnovers and turned into LeBron dunks.
In fact, Miami’s first ten points came off of dunks that were enabled by the Heat’s pressure on the perimeter forcing turnovers in the open-court.
James was the orchestrator on both ends of the floor. He was flawless at every aspect of the game. He shut down Metta World Peace in the second half after he made a few too many shots in the first, before proceeding to hold Kobe Bryant scoreless for the final 2:30 after the five-time champion began making long-distance jumpers in the face of just about any defender who attempted to limit his scoring prowess.
Bryant scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth, none coming when LeBron began to defend him in the closing minutes. Wade performed an excellent job defending Bryant throughout the night, forcing the league’s top scorer into 8-of-25 shooting. Even when Bryant began to make shots at the end, Wade was still playing defense that would have locked down just about every other player in the league.
Wade had one of his better games of the season finishing with 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block. That type of game was necessary from Wade because outside of him, there was absolutely no help for LeBron. Ray Allen’s nine off the bench led the role players, while Chris Bosh struggled to get anything going with a measly seven points and six rebounds in 35 minutes.
Miami shot 2-of-13 from beyond arc; one from Allen and the other, appropriately, from LeBron.
Bosh did have six steals, however. Besides that, he wasn’t contributing much other than missing jumpers. Although he was listed at center, it was the 6’8″ Udonis Haslem who had the assignment of defending Dwight Howard. Haslem performed a well-enough job to hold Howard to 13 points on only seven shot attempts and 16 rebounds.
Howard’s 5-of-13 foul shooting, including an air-ball in the final minutes in a two-point game, punctuated the Lakers’ offensive woes of nothing coming easy.
The Lakers were forced into 20 turnovers, which the Heat used to score a 21-5 advantage in terms of fastbreak points. Perhaps the most eye-popping stat, however, is the total number of points that came in the paint. While the Lakers could only muster 28 points in the painted area, the Heat scored 68 points in the same area that inhabits three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
With nobody on the Heat stepping up, it basically turned into the second-round series against Indiana all over again. LeBron and Dwyane worked off each other throughout the night, mostly resulting in easy scores around the basket, and also did it on the defensive end in terms of keeping Kobe Bryant and every other star in check.
Joel Anthony is the unsung hero of the night. He constantly blew up the Lakers’ high pick-and-rolls by obstructing Steve Nash’s vision, while simultaneously denying the pass to the roller. Although he didn’t record a single field-goal attempt and missed three of his four free throw attempts, Anthony’s role in disrupting the initiation of the Lakers’ defense was instrumental in causing out-of-rhythm jumpers and shots taken late in the shot-clock.
While the Heat were doing just about everything right on the defensive end, the lack of assistance from the role players kept this a game. The Lakers went into the half up 45-44, but it seemed the Heat were poised to pull away following a strong third quarter that led them to an eight-point lead heading into the fourth.
Miami pushed the lead to nine following a Joel Anthony free throw, but that was the point where Kobe arrived. He had the Lakers next five points, coupled with a pair of World Peace free throws, that cut the Heat lead to one. The Lakers would end up taking an 83-81 lead with 6:33 remaining, but the Heat responded with a seven-point run that was capped off by a LeBron jumper and an Allen three-pointer.
Another Laker run pushed the game to a 90-all tie with 2:33 remaining. It would be the last time the Lakers would score as James would switch onto Bryant, while Dwight would miss a pair of free throws. Wade and Allen would hit a pair of jumpers in the meantime, before LeBron hit the dagger jumper over World Peace with 49 seconds remaining to make it a six-point game.
The Heat get a long rest following the road trip and don’t play again until a home contest with the Toronto Raptors.