Dylan Karlovic, 11, holds up a sign before the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Miami Heat in an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 20, in Cleveland. Miami won 98-95. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Just in case people were starting to get bored watching the Miami Heat win game after game en route to 23 straight wins – the second-longest winning streak in NBA history – LeBron James and crew went for the dramatic on Wednesday night (Thursday Manila time) at his old stomping grounds.
James – who as far as hometown heroes go, gets the Darth Vader treatment in Cleveland – put on a virtuoso performance and recorded a triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in leading the Miami Heat all the way back from a 27-point deficit in the third quarter, to edge the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on the road, 98-95, and push their winning streak to 24 games.
The defending champions played the first three quarters of the game looking nothing like the dominant team they’ve been since dropping a road loss to the Indiana Pacers back in the beginning of February, as the Cavs jumped off to a 21-point halftime lead behind a strong first quarter by sophomore forward Tristan Thompson, and C.J. Miles catching fire in the second.
Playing without All-star point guard Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Verajao, the Cavs continued their inspired play and pushed their lead all the way to 27 points, 67-40, with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
And then the Miami Heat decided to play like the Miami Heat.
The Heat stepped up their defensive intensity, strung up a few points from the free throw line, and after Shane Battier’s third 3-pointer of the quarter, found themselves trailing by only 12 points with a minute left in the third quarter.
James would then take over in the fourth, scoring 11 of Miami’s first 12 points to take the lead, 80-79, with 9 minutes to go, and ensuring his homecoming, which was met with unusually more cheers than his previous visits to the Quicken Loans Arena, wasn’t going to end in a loss. Fittingly, it was James’ two free throws that sealed the game with 4.7 left, as Miles’ potential game tying 3-pointer clanked off the rim.
Mario Chalmers added 17 points and Dwyane Wade had 11 for the Heat, who are now within nine games of the NBA’s longest winning streak at 33 set by the ’71-’72 Los Angeles Lakers’. Wayne Ellington paced the Cavs with 20 points, while Thompson ended up with 18.
James put on a show in front of his old hometown crowd, which has evidently come around since his first exodus from the city. Even Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who infamously lashed out at James after leaving his team and decided to “take his talents to South Beach”, had nicer things to say about his former star employee.
"Cleveland Cavaliers’ young talent makes our future very bright," Gilbert wrote on Twitter. "Clearly, LeBron's is as well. Time for everyone to focus on the road ahead."
In a rather bizarre scene, a young man wearing a shirt that read "We Miss You, 2014 Come Back" (an obvious reference to James) rushed into the floor in the middle of the fourth quarter. Feeling more love than his usual visits, James smiled and patted the young man on the head as he was escorted by security off the court.
A fan runs out on the court towards LeBron James during the fourth quarter. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Against a lowly team in a game wherein they could’ve easily packed it in and called it a night, and with the Eastern Conference tucked safely in their back pocket, James and the Heat showed that they have simply forgotten how to accept defeat. And with the way things are going, it’s really up to the Heat when they choose to end their current winning streak.
Follow Dennis on Twitter @dRealSource.