Within the first week of the season, the Heat saw long winning streaks end against two opponents it has dominated for several years. That did not happen a third time, despite another sluggish start.
The Heat grabbed its first lead one-tenth of a second before halftime and rode a dynamic second half from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to dispatch the Raptors 104-95 on Tuesday at Air Canada Centre.
Ahead 78-74 after three quarters, Miami unleashed a 12-0 spurt to start the fourth, during which Toronto committed seven turnovers in less than four minutes.
That was the decisive blow that allowed the Heat to win on the road for the first time this season and push its winning streak against Toronto to 12 games, equaling its longest ongoing run against any team. (Miami also has won 12 in a row against Charlotte.)
“They pounded us from the beginning, and then we realized we had to get our hands dirty,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I was pleased to see our guys sweat and work for it.”
Tuesday’s win came several days after the 76ers beat the Heat for the first time in 16 games, and the Nets ended Miami’s 13-game streak against them.
James scored 17 points in the first half and 18 in the second to close with a season-high 35, along with eight rebounds and eight assists. “I’m getting to where I’m going out there and feeling like I did at the end of last year,” he said.
He also extended his streak of double-figure scoring games to 500, which ranks sixth all time but well behind Michael Jordan’s record of 866. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice), Karl Malone and Moses Malone are the only others who have reached 500 games in a row.
That streak “is humbling,” James said. “To be in such a great class like that is an amazing feeling.”
Wade was splendid in the third quarter, hitting 5 of 6 shots, including a snazzy turnaround at the buzzer to put the Heat ahead 78-74 after three.
“I was happy to see LeBron aggressive, and I came out aggressive as well,” he said.
And Wade — who had 20 points, six rebounds and five assists — combined with James on a couple of dazzling plays: a no-look pass from James to Wade for a layup and a Wade alley-oop to James for a dunk.
“Every night, they bring something out of the bag we haven’t seen before,” Heat forward Rashard Lewis said. “When they get in rhythm together, it’s hard to stop.”
Toronto entered first in the NBA in rebounds per game (50), whereas the Heat came in last (at 33 per game), and having been outrebounded by 29 over its first four games.
And with Chris Bosh staying back in Miami after the birth of his daughter, the Heat started an undersized lineup, with 6-8 Udonis Haslem matched against 6-11 Jonas Valanciunas and 6-8 Shane Battier opposite 6-9 Amir Johnson.
The Raptors victimized the Heat on the offensive boards, scoring 23 second-chance points to Miami’s 16. But only six of the Raptors’ second-chance points came after halftime, and Toronto’s overall rebounding edge (40-38) was negligible.
For the fifth consecutive game, the Heat (3-2) was forced to climb out of an early hole. Miami fell behind 7-0 after trailing 9-2, 19-0, 11-3 and 9-2 in its first four games.
“Once we got past the first six minutes, we realized we had to scrap for it,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat dug itself out of that mess, grabbed its first lead on Mario Chalmers’ three before the halftime buzzer and led by 10 in the third before Toronto tied it. The Heat then blitzed Toronto to start the fourth, with two baskets apiece from Norris Cole and Chris Andersen to push the margin to 16.
Ray Allen scored 14 points, and Miami outscored Toronto by 21 during his 30 minutes.
Toronto closed within 96-90 with 2:16 left, but a James driving layup and free throw essentially settled matters.
Spoelstra used 11 players, including Michael Beasley for the first time. Beasley, making his first appearance in a meaningful game for Miami since April 2010, quickly hit two three-pointers when he entered in the second quarter.
“It felt good to give the team a spark,” he said.
Beasley’s stint also included two misses (a hook shot and an errant three-pointer), a blocked shot and a traveling violation.
“He gave us some great minutes,” James said. “I really feel good about it.”