It’s such a confused place, this city where LeBron James used to play.
Four seasons after he left Cleveland for Miami, Cavaliers’ fans still love James and still hate him and still love him and hate all at once during the same game.
Before the game on Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena, they cheered James and booed him at the same time. Then they cheered him when he went supernova in the first quarter. After that, the building changed it up again and went back to the boos.
It has been so long for Heat fans since LeBron James signed with Miami, but back in Cleveland the scorned lovers are still agonizing over broken hearts.
Whatever the emotion in the building when James visits this place, one common thread, of course, burns through the pain — it’s always a spectacle and this time around was no different. James scored 25 points in the first quarter of his last game in Cleveland this season and the Heat pulled away from the shorthanded Cavaliers late in the game for a 100-96 victory.
The Heat (46-19) has now won 10 in a row against Cleveland. It was also the Heat’s second consecutive victory after losing five of six games.
“It has just been different every time we play here since Dec. 2, 2010,” said James, who added that hears both the boos and the cheers when he plays in Cleveland.
Nothing will top that first game for James back in Cleveland, but the first 12 minutes on Tuesday night came close.
After going 10 of 11 from the field and 5 of 6 from three-point range in the first quarter, James finished the game with 43 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Overall, he was 14 of 19 from the field, 6 of 8 from three-point range and 9 of 13 from the free-throw line.
“It’s one of those zones,” James said of the first quarter. “It’s one of those great feelings and the worst part about it is I missed four free throws.”
James was 1 of 5 from the free-throw line in the first half but found his form in the final period and went 6 of 6 from the foul line. The Heat went 10 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter to outscore the Cavaliers 21-17 in the final period. Cleveland was 2 of 3 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. The Cavs played without guard Kyrie Irving and forward Loul Deng, who are both injured.
Dwyane Wade missed the game to rest his knees, which allowed Chris Bosh the opportunity to play a key role in the fourth quarter. He delivered.
Bosh scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 21 points, going 8 of 16 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point line and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra credited Bosh’s offensive contribution in crunch time to the Heat’s willingness to move the ball in its half-court set.
“That’s a concentrated effort of improving something that failed us last week,” Spoelstra said. “So, for two games going down the stretch, that’s progress.”
A three-pointer from the corner by Cavaliers guard Jarrett Jack tied the score at 88-88 with 3:43 to play, and Spoelstra called a timeout and inserted Udonis Haslem into the game. Haslem pulled down two important rebounds following the break, and Bosh gave the Heat a five-point lead with a three-pointer and then a silky smooth 13-foot floater with 2:22 to play.
“That’s a heck of an option to have at the end of the offense,” Spoelstra said. “And the more we continue to understand that, the better we’ll be offensively. The key is can you do that under duress? Can you do that under the pressure of time and score, fourth quarter, late-game situations? And the last two games I’ve liked what I’ve seen in that department.”
Three demonstrative blocks by James and Bosh in the span of 65 seconds preserved the Heat’s lead with under two minutes to play.
James’ second block of the sequence was a tag-team effort with Haslem and came with 28 seconds left. It sent Dion Waiters to the deck holding his leg in pain.
“Probably my favorite play of the game was that double block,” Spoelstra said. “I hope Waiters is OK, but [Haslem] and [James] both going for the block, it’s a possession-saving play.”
Wade sat out his 17th game of the season and is expected to play Wednesday against the Celtics. Toney Douglas started in place of the Heat’s star shooting guard and had a productive night. He finished with nine points, two rebounds and five assists in 22 minutes.
While Wade rested, Greg Oden received his second start in a row. He played the first seven minutes of the first and third quarters and had six points, three rebounds, two rebounds and two steals. His 14 minutes on the court were a season high. Without question, it was one of the big center’s more important games of his comeback bid. Oden is now expected to rest Wednesday in the second night of the Heat’s back-to-back in Boston.
“I just like the minutes,” Spoelstra said. “It’s guaranteed minutes … so I think each time he gets that opportunity, I think you’ll see more rhythm, and he’ll seem more comfortable.”