With four minutes to play in Sunday’s game against the Raptors, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout to get LeBron James back in the game.
It was a wise move.
After the game — a 100-85 victory for the Heat — Spoelstra made another smart decision by allowing his team to stay in Toronto for a few more hours. The Heat hustled to get dressed in the visiting locker room of Air Canada Centre and then walked across the street to a sports bar to watch the Super Bowl.
Originally, the Heat was scheduled to fly back to Miami immediately following the game. After all, the team plays the Bobcats at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. But sometimes team morale is more important than team rest.
“There was a collective groundswell to stay,” Spoelstra said.
Of course, Spoelstra could have pulled the plug on the whole plan at any moment had the Heat lost. Maybe the added motivation of watching the Super Bowl explained the Heat’s 14-2 run to end the game.
James checked in for Ray Allen with 4:09 to play and the Heat leading 86-83. From there, it was over quickly.
James found Chris Bosh in the corner for a three-pointer with 2:42 to play. Bosh swished the shot and Raptors coach Dwane Casey called a timeout. Not that it helped. Nothing could stop the Heat’s momentum.
On Toronto’s inbounds play, James stepped in front of Kyle Lowry’s pass and then sprinted down the court for a breakaway dunk. The easy points put the Heat ahead by nine with 2:20 to play.
Raptors rookie Terrence Ross answered with an airball on the other end and, following a turnover by Dwyane Wade, Toronto forward Rudy Gay charged into Shane Battier under the rim for another failed possession. James then stroked a three-pointer with 1:49 left to put the game away.
“LeBron’s finish, we don’t take that for granted, because we know how valuable he is, but probably around the league that probably goes under the radar,” Spoelstra said. “But in terms of a guy dominating the last three or four minutes, and he was trying to be a facilitator, that speaks to how competitive he is, and what kind of winning plays he can make in a close game.”
Big game for Big 3
The Heat’s Big 3 combined to score 81 points, with James’ 30 points leading all players. Gay, who started his first game for the Raptors after recently being acquired in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, nearly matched James with 29.
Gay received the start after Landry Fields was a game-day scratch due to back spasms, according to the Raptors.
James was 10 of 16 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range and 9 of 12 from the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds, including five in the fourth quarter, to go along with seven assists and two steals.
Bosh finished with 28 points, going 12 of 19 from the field, in his return to Toronto. Three seasons removed from leaving Canada for Miami, Bosh’s visits to Air Canada Centre are still emotional. He was roundly booed and heckled throughout the game, and responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“They pay their money, they can do what they want,” Bosh said. “I just hope they remember the good times.
“I thank them for staying on me and calling me names and stuff because that helped my focus a lot. I said, ‘I need to get in this [game] to shut them up.’”
Wade finished with 23 points, going 10 of 13 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. He had five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. James, Wade and Bosh each had three turnovers.
The Heat held Toronto to 29.7 percent shooting (and 2 of 12 from three-point range) in the second half. Gay was 3 of 11 from the field in the final two quarters. The Raptors’ bench made just four of 18 shots overall. DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points, going 14 of 14 from the free-throw line, and Lowry had 10 points.
“It was more a defensive win but we had some clutch plays down near the end,” Spoelstra said. “It’s good to get this one to close out this road trip and so we can end this evening, enjoy the [Super Bowl].”