Before Wednesday night’s Heat-Clippers game, a media mob surrounded a prone LeBron James, who was being stretched as he followed the latest comedy from Los Angeles’ lesser NBA team. Two and a half hours later, James stood before the same mob, adorned with ice packs after no joke of a game against L.A.’s greater team.
James embodied the game. Each demonstrated myriad characteristics that make James as a player and NBA basketball as a game wondrous entertainment at their best with just the right touch of imperfection.
The Heat came out hitting 15 of its first 18, assisting on 15 of its first 16 baskets. All five Heat starters, plus Chris Andersen and Ray Allen, scored in double figures for the game, with Allen firing in 11 of his 15 in the fourth quarter. It was Allen’s three-pointer off a shot-clock-beating drive by Dwyane Wade that put the game away at 112-107 after the Clippers chomped away at a 17-point Heat third-quarter lead. The Heat held on for a 116-112 victory.
“The ball was moving, everybody was involved early on, spread it out,” Wade said. “Once the game got tight, you go to your main sets, your main guys and let them create most of the triggers.”
The teams packed so many scintillating plays into the 48 minutes that two made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day, a list shown while the Heat and Clippers were only at halftime. And those plays, Clippers forward Blake Griffin’s failed one-handed dunk and James chasing down Darren Collison to block a layup (after one of his game-high seven turnovers launched the Clippers break), might not have been the two best of the first half.
What about Jamal Crawford’s half-ending three-pointer? Or either of James spectacular dunks? Or Wade’s?
But rarely will 48 regular-season minutes with so many brilliant moments that make viewers exclaim “OH!” also possess this level of physicality or emotion.
Officials whistled 56 fouls, with Griffin and the Heat’s Chris Bosh, Andersen and Mario Chalmers each getting five. In his 5 minutes 43 seconds, Greg Oden drew a flagrant foul for pushing an airborne Griffin. James drew a technical foul as he reacted to his first foul.
The next possession, James grabbed a rebound, dribbled swiftly behind his back, between his legs and threw the alley-oop pass that Andersen dunked, one of James’ game-high 12 assists.
“Good thing about going against these guys for us, we’ve got a couple of days in between,” James said. “We’re going to need it. Guys are banged up against those twin towers they’ve got over there.”
That would be the 6-10 Griffin (43 points, 15 rebounds) and 6-11 DeAndre Jordan (16 points, 16 rebounds). Against the muscular dunking duo, the Heat used Bosh, Andersen, Shane Battier and James.
“Even though we got pounded on the glass [52-31], they were doing a lot of big muscle things,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t from a lack of competitiveness. It was a physical game. They were throwing their bodies around — Bird, Shane, C.B., and I thought Greg gave us five good minutes. Those were enough plays for us. Even [James], when he was having to guard Jordan and Griffin … they burned a lot of calories [Wednesday night].”
As noted by all, it was a “one-through-five” night for James on defense. He guarded every position on the floor.
“Yeah, that’s why I should be Defensive Player of the Year,” James said, smiling. “No one’s ever done this before. That’s why I’m sitting over here with, like, nine bags of ice on me.”
“Two well-coached teams,” James said. “We’ve had our battles with [Clippers coach] Doc [Rivers] in the Eastern Conference for so long, we know how well his team will be prepared. We’re always prepared. It was a great showing by both teams.”
• Chalmers was fined $5,000 by the NBA on Thursday for violating the league’s anti-flopping rules for the second time this season. The violation came with 5:54 left in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game.
• Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will defend their Shooting Stars Competition title on All-Star Saturday. The other Eastern Conference team will feature former Heat star Tim Hardaway and his son, Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., along with Elena Delle Donne.