It took the Heat a full half of Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors to gain their first lead. But it was one Miami would not relinquish, holding on to a 104 – 95 victory. LeBron James led the way, putting up a gaudy 35 points, 8 rebound and 8 assist performance that was his best of the season so far.
The Heat were missing All-Star – and ex-Raptor – Chris Bosh, who was back in Miami with his family celebrating the birth of his daughter, Dylan Skye. Shane Battier started in his place but it didn’t matter as Miami fell into a familiar pattern of starting out slowly. Toronto built an early 7 – 0 lead and Bosh’s presence in the middle was sorely missed as Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas took advantage down low for a quick 10 points as the lead extended 19 -10 halfway through the first quarter.
James was the lone bright spot for Miami early on, racking up 10 points of his own in the first. In doing so, he reached the major milestone of scoring in double digits in 500 consecutive games, the sixth-longest streak in NBA history. His scoring was far from over as the Raptors were utterly helpless to prevent LeBron from scoring at will.
Toronto head coach Dwane Casey surprisingly pulled out Valanciunas and the Heat began staging their comeback. Miami’s bench was particularly strong with Ray Allen (14 points), Rashard Lewis (4 points) and Michael Beasley (6 points) helping to close the gap. Beasley, making his first regular season appearance for the Heat in more than three years, made an immediate impact, knocking down back-to-back shots from long range. He also added a block in just four minutes of play and showed improved instincts on team defense. A three-pointer from Mario Chalmers capped an 18 -5 run and gave Miami the lead, 52 – 50, as time expired in the second quarter.
The Heat never lost control of the game in the second half. Dwyane Wade (20 points) hit three smooth jumpshots at the start of the third quarter and the lead soon increased to 10 after a Battier three-pointer. Shane hit two for the game, ending a streak of 13 consecutive misses from behind the arc.
But Toronto managed to close the lead to 2 behind strong efforts from DeMar DeRozan (21 points), Kyle Lowry (13 points) and Rudy Gay (13 points, 10 rebounds). Valanciunas came back in with 3:58 left to play (finishing with 18 points) but the damage was already done. James closed out the game with a flourish, even appearing to toy with the Raptors as the game wound down.
After the game, James seemed at ease and energized. This is a good sign for the Heat (3 -2), as their next opponent is the high-powered Los Angeles Clippers (3 -1). Tip-off for that game is Thursday at the American Airlines Arena, with coverage beginning at 7 P.M. on TNT.