The Heat was missing Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, but it didn’t matter, with LeBron James making almost every shot in a blowout of the Clippers.
It was magical basketball. Brilliance personified. The kind of night, 20 years from now, that every sports fan in Miami will claim to have witnessed firsthand.
I was there the night LeBron James burned down the building by the bay, they will say. You could see it smoldering from South Beach.
James entered the game on an unbelievable offensive tear. He ripped open reality Friday at American-Airlines Arena with a performance that will go down among his career highlights and be filed away as one of the best single-game displays of athletic achievement in South Florida sports history.
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The Heat defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 111-89, with James scoring 30 points on just 11 shots. He is the first player this season to score at least 30 points on 11 or fewer shot attempts, and it was a benchmark performance for his career as well. Never before has James scored so many points with so few shots.
“He’s off the planet right now,” Dwyane Wade said of his teammate. “He’s not even the best basketball player on the planet. He has surpassed the planet. He’s somewhere — the galaxy.
“I don’t know with him. He continues to do the amazing. It’s like, where’s the bar for this guy? Does he have a bar?”
Here was the bar Friday: James was 9 of 11 from the field, 4 of 5 from three-point range and 8 of 11 from the free-throw line. At one point in the third quarter, he was 8 of 9 overall and 3 of 3 from three-point range after making back-to-back three-pointers, the first of which he converted for a four-point play. It was the stuff of basketball lore.
“We try to come up with new superlatives every game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s the best player in the game, and he continues to reinvent himself.”
James’ past three games arguably have been one of the most impressive runs of dominance since he joined the Heat. He is shooting 33 of 43 from the field (76.7 percent) during that stretch. He set a career high for field-goal percentage Monday against the Bobcats, going 13 of 14 from the field (92.8). On Friday, he shot a mere 81.8 percent.
“There’s nothing to figure out for me,” James said. “You just go out, see what the pace of the game is bringing, and you go out and you figure it out on the fly. I don’t predetermine anything that I’m doing.
“If the defense backs up, I shoot. If they get up on me, I drive.”
James’ back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter sparked a 21-3 run for the Heat and effectively ended the game early while also spoiling the comeback of Clippers star point guard Chris Paul. A close friend of James’ off the court, Paul hadn’t played in a game since Jan. 21 because of a bruised kneecap.
James fell to his back, fouled in the act of shooting by DeAndre Jordan, on his first three-pointer of the run. The shot swished through the nets, and James converted the four-point play with a free throw. After a missed 15-footer by Paul, James knocked down another three-pointer to give the Heat a 71-54 lead.
James added another three-pointer before the end of the period to give him 15 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half. In addition to his points, James finished with six assists and five rebounds.
James’ dominance of the game seemed to inspire his teammates. In the first half, the Heat shot 67.6 percent (23 of 34) from the field and 57.1 percent (8 of 14) from three-point range. James was 6 of 6 overall and 1 of 1 from three-point range in the first half.
While James did his best work from the outside in the second half, he began his big night by punishing the Clippers inside. Like an NFL running back, James busted through an arm tackle by Blake Griffin inside the paint to set up a three-point play with 2:20 left in the first half. On the Heat’s next possession, James turned in a devastating spin move inside the paint to give Miami a 60-43 lead.
The Heat (33-14 overall) is now 17-5 against teams from the Western Conference. The Clippers defeated the Heat 99-90 in the first game of the season series. Los Angeles has now lost eight of its past 11 games.
Paul finished with just three points in his first game since bruising his right kneecap in January. He played 19 minutes and picked up a technical foul for arguing a foul call on James with 4:58 left. Moments later, Griffin was hit with his own technical foul for arguing. James and Mario Chalmers hit a series of free throws to give the Heat an 89-57 lead.
Wade scored a lively 20 points, going 8 of 16 from the field to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. His dunk after James’ back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter sent the arena into a frenzy.
Chalmers had 18 points, shooting 5 of 9 from the field and 5 of 8 from three-point range while showing up the Clippers’ dynamic guards in the process. Chris Bosh and Ray Allen missed the game with flu-like symptoms, but Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis combined to go 7 of 12 from three-point range for 22 points to offset the loss of offense.