A difficult road trip couldn’t have started any tougher.
The Miami Heat began the game short-handed with Dwyane Wade not even in the building. LeBron James bashed his knee in the second quarter. Zaza Pachulia kicked Udonis Haslem.
The new-look Atlanta Hawks pushed Miami to the point of exhaustion in a slugfest worthy of the first regular-season game between division rivals, but the Heat prevailed with a 95-89 victory at Philips Arena on Friday night. It was the opening game of a six-game road trip for the Heat, which now heads to Memphis for a Sunday game against the Grizzlies.
The Heat led 91-89 when LeBron James drilled a 16-footer over DeShawn Stevenson with 13.6 seconds left to give the Heat (5-1) a four-point lead. Seconds earlier, Ray Allen was called for traveling, but the Hawks missed their chance to tie the score when Al Horford’s baseline jumper rimmed out.
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“I just tried to get to my spot and once I got there just tried to elevate, concentrate and make the shot,” James said of his late basket.
Wade missed the game with an illness and Mike Miller was slotted into the starting lineup for the first time this season. Miller played 31 minutes after logging about 35 minutes in the Heat’s first five games. He finished with four points, six rebounds and two assists.
“With this team, that’s the way it is,” Miller said. “When you get the opportunity, you go out there, play hard and give the team an opportunity to win. My role will definitely be different on Sunday, but it is what it is.”
James had another spectacular game despite hurting his knee just before halftime. He finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 36 minutes. On Wednesday against Brooklyn, James fell two assists shy of a triple-double.
“I knew it was just like a little stinger,” said James, who bumped knees with Hawks forward Josh Smith late in the second quarter. “One thing about me, if I get injured, it’s going to take a lot for me to not go back out there with my teammates.”
James was late to emerge from the halftime locker room and then did several low-resistance knee exercises with a team trainer. At the last moment, James ripped off his warmup pants and joined the team huddle for the second half. In his last two games, James has 41 points, 23 rebounds and 17 assists. On Friday he was 10 of 17 from the field and 1 of 3 from the free-throw line.
James has five double-doubles in the Heat’s first six games of the season and is averaging 22.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists.
Chris Bosh led the Heat with 24 points, going 7 of 13 one game after shooting 20 percent from the field. Wednesday night against Brooklyn was a rare off game for Bosh, and he made amends in Atlanta. He was 10 of 10 from the free-throw line and also had five rebounds, three offensive rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block.
“I wanted to be aggressive, especially with Dwyane out,” Bosh said. “There had to be some pick-up for the offense, and I kind of wanted to do my part and make sure we made up for some of that. [My] shots were falling and I was able to get to the free-throw line.”
The Heat led 72-71 after the third quarter but used a 10-2 run to begin the fourth quarter. Bosh anchored the Heat’s starting lineup to begin the final period with Norris Cole, Allen, Haslem and Rashard Lewis providing support.
“They did a great job,” James said. “They raised the lead for us and we needed every bucket. Tonight was one of those division games, one of those hand-to-hand combat games, and it’s always good to get a win on the road.”
Haslem absorbed much of that hand-to-hand combat during his one-one-one matchups with Pachulia, the Hawks’ reserve center with a league-wide reputation for his tough and physical style of play. Sometimes, Pachulia goes a bit too far, though. In the third quarter he picked up a technical foul for trying to sweep the legs of Haslem, who was standing over Pachulia after a play.
“We expected a physical game,” Haslem said. “Sometimes we get tangled up and tempers flair but, all in all, I look forward to the challenge of playing against Zaza and guys who like to be physical.”
A pair of free throws by Bosh gave the Heat an 82-73 lead with 7:52 left in the game, but Atlanta erased the deficit with tough baskets inside by Josh Smith and Kyle Korver. A three-pointer by Jeff Teague with four minutes left tied the score at 85, and the Hawks took the lead on a driving layup by Al Horford.
Bosh tied the score with a pair of free throws and then drilled a 20-footer in transition on a steal by Rashard Lewis. The jump shot gave Bosh six points to begin the fourth quarter.
A smooth 17-foot fade-away jumper from the right baseline by Allen put the Heat ahead 91-89 with 1:22 to play. Allen had 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
“That’s why they’re the defending champs,” said Teague who led the Hawks with 20 points and 11 assists. “They made plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”