Just a normal night in Cleveland for the Heat, which is to say bizarre, insane, ridiculous, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
Yes, the Heat extended its winning streak to 24 games — the second-longest in NBA history. No, that wasn’t the biggest take away from a stupefying 98-95 victory Wednesday night over the Cavaliers — LeBron James’ old team. For starters, the Heat won despite trailing by 27 points in the third quarter.
So, for the second consecutive game, the Heat came back from a big deficit. On Monday in Boston, the Heat rallied from a 17-point hole.
But, oh, this game was so much weirder than the Heat’s biggest comeback win of the season.
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Before the game even began, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert seemed to infer on Twitter that James was returning to Cleveland in 2014. James can opt out of his contract after next season, and it’s no secret the Cavs want him back. But here’s what Gilbert wrote just in case it wasn’t absolutely crystal clear:
“Cleveland Cavaliers young talent makes our future very bright. Clearly, LeBron’s is as well. Time for everyone to focus on the road ahead.”
So, with that as the backdrop, the game was set to begin at 7:12 p.m. Only, there was one slight problem.
Delay of game
Officials and arena personnel were forced to delay the game by 35 minutes after fluid began leaking from the scoreboard during warmups. After slowly lowering the scoreboard to determine the problem, the Quicken Loans Arena folks sorted everything out, wiped up the floor, and the contest started at 7:47 p.m.
But the strangeness was just revving up.
Finally, the game got under way and it was clear the Heat was at the end of a five-game road trip. The Cavaliers led by 21 points, 55-34, at halftime. Meanwhile, the Heat failed to sink a field goal in the final 6:45 of the first half and was outscored 23-10 in the second period. Miami (53-14) missed its final eight shots of the half.
The ineptitude continued into the third quarter.
A field goal — a running hook from Chris Bosh, no less — finally dropped 79 seconds into the third quarter to break the Heat’s skid. It was Miami’s first field goal in more than eight minutes. But the bloodletting wasn’t over.
The Cavaliers (22-46) answered with seven points in a row to run their lead to 64-38.
A baseline dunk by Alonzo Gee on Shane Battier put the Cavaliers ahead by 23 points with about five minutes left in the third quarter. On the Heat’s next possession, James tipped in one his own misses for his first field goal since the first quarter.
The Cavaliers’ lead ballooned to 27 points before the Heat finally started hitting some shots.
“At first I didn’t know what to say to our guys,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t necessarily a designed offense. It was those guys making the shots.”
Three three-pointers by Battier and another from Ray Allen in the final four minutes of the third quarter helped cut the Cavaliers’ lead to nine points entering the final period.
That’s when James took over. Over a 12-minute span between third and fourth quarters, James outscored the Cavaliers 16-15.
Only, before that could play out, one more crazy thing — the craziest of all, actually — still needed to happen to cap the night as — without question — the most outrageous of the season.
A fan ran onto the court with 8:21 left in the period and the Heat still trailing by four points. The man’s white T-shirt read “We Miss You Come Back 2014” in black block letters.
The fan entered the court near the Heat’s bench and before the Heat’s security could chase him down, James ran to the fan and patted him on the head.
“He said he missed me and come back, please,” James said. “I didn’t have time to say much to him, because security got to him.”
James finished the game with 25 points, scoring 14 in the fourth quarter. He was 8 of 22 from the field and had 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season and 36th of his career.
James’ back-to-back three-pointers, separated by a timeout, gave the Heat an 80-79 lead with 9:40 left. It was the Heat’s first lead since the first three minutes of the game. Earlier, James tied it at 77-77 with a three-pointer to cap the comeback. The arena let out a collective groan of disbelief as Cavs coach Byron Scott called for an emergency timeout.
“We caught lightning in a bottle,” Spoelstra said.
After trailing by 27 points with 7:44 left in the third quarter, the Heat outscored the Cavaliers 58-28.
“The only way we could get back into the game if we made stop and stop after stop,” James said. “That’s probably one of the best comebacks I have ever been a part of.”
James was one of six Heat players to score in double figures for the Heat. Bosh, Battier and Dwyane Wade had 11 points each and Mario Chalmers had 17 on eight shots. Chalmers was 3 of 6 from three-point range. Overall, the Heat was 12 of 29 from behind the arc after going 2 of 10 from distance in the first half.
Wayne Ellington had 20 points for the Cavaliers, who played the game short-handed. Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao are out for the season with injuries and Dion Waiters had a left knee injury. Tristan Thompson had 18 points for Cleveland.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Thompson said.
Even tougher to comprehend.