It was a typical Christmas get-together of old family members — a little awkward at the beginning, then a nice gift to make everyone happy and finally hugs all around.
LeBron James hugged or high-fived pretty much everyone in the building after losing to his old team 101-91 on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena — even Burnie the Heat mascot got some love — and when it was all over the post-game friendship fest ended at midcourt with one final embrace. James gave Dwyane Wade one final hug for the road and then it was all over.
Christmas with LeBron capped an emotionally turbulent two days for the Heat (14-16). The team lost to the four-win Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, and then the resilient Heat players regrouped and redeemed themselves with perhaps their most important victory of the season. Wade had a game-high 31 points and the Heat, led offensively by Danny Granger, outscored the Cleveland Cavaliers 24-17 in the final quarter. Granger had seven of his nine points in the final period.
James finished with 30 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, but his new teammates retreated from the moment in crunch time. Cleveland shot 31.6 percent (6 of 19) in the fourth quarter, and the team had 16 assists to 15 turnovers throughout the game.
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Wade and James covered their mouths as they spoke to each other after the game, but the conversation wasn’t a big secret. James and Wade seem to bring the best out of each other no matter if they’re on the same team or wearing different jerseys. After a four-year break to build a dynastic run of four trips to the NBA Finals and two championships, the old friends are now back to being on-court rivals, and they both seem content with that.
“It was great,” Wade said of playing against James. “In coming into the league, I haven’t had really a rival opponent and the closest thing I really had to that was the years we had when we went against each other. Our four years was amazing and we won’t take nothing away from it, but it was good to see him on the other side of the court as well because he’s going to bring out the best in you, and you hope you do the same.”
The tale of the tape:
▪ Wade went 12 of 28 from the field overall, 2 of 5 from three-point range and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. He scored 24 points in the first half and finished with five assists, five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
▪ James was 9-of-16 shooting, 2 of 8 from three-point range and 10 of 18 from the free-throw line. He also had eight assists and four rebounds.
“It brought back old times and the battles that we had,” James said. “Once again we put 30 up against each other. It’s always fun competing against such a great friend.”
The Heat had 27 assists, including eight from Luol Deng, the small forward the Heat picked up this summer to replace James. Deng had a very LeBron-like stat line, scoring 25 points to go along with eight rebounds and those eight assists. It was Deng’s first 25-8-8 night of his career.
“I thought as a team we just did a good job of just bouncing back,” Deng said. “Obviously Philly played a great game here and we feel that we gave away that game because we were up by so much, and it really was one of those games where we couldn’t sleep at night.
“I thought we came back in and we had a good practice and good walk-through, and everybody was just so focused [Thursday night].”
The Heat led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but the Cavaliers (17-11) rallied in the second and third quarters and took the lead at 78-77 on a breakaway dunk by James 40 seconds into the final period. James was then hit with a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and the Cavs never led again.
The Heat held on for the victory after former Heat player Mike Miller missed a three-pointer with 1:43 to play that would have cut Miami’s lead to five points. Granger answered on the Heat’s next possession with a clutch 10-foot jumper. After playing injured for several years, and battling a scary cough last week, Granger says he is feeling a little like the player who starred for the Indiana Pacers before knee surgery robbed some of his best years.
He finished with nine points, including seven in the fourth quarter. His three-pointer with 2:37 left answered a three-pointer by Miller and gave the Heat a six-point lead.
“It felt like old times for me,” Granger said. “I always put myself in the mind-set of all those years when I played in Indiana and made big shots in those fourth quarters, and that’s what it kind of felt like [Thursday night].’’