It was a fast break and Mario Chalmers was wide open in the corner but he didn’t want the ball. At all times and at every point in his career, Chalmers has always been the most confident player on the court, so it wasn’t about passing up an open look.
No, it was about knowing his teammate would have a better shot at the basket even though Ray Allen was halfway down the court and still nowhere near the basket. This is the level of basketball at which the Heat is now capable of playing. It’s instinctual and something like clairvoyance and it was all on display Thursday night in the Heat’s first prime time game since the season opener.
The two-time champs didn’t disappoint.
Led by Dwyane Wade, the Heat defeated the Clippers 102-97 at AmericanAirlines Arena in the first game this season between two opponents many believe will be playing for the NBA title come June. Clippers point guard Chris Paul entered the game playing better than just about everyone in the NBA, but Wade was the dominant guard in the fourth quarter of a close game. He had 11 points in the final period to go along with three assists.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The most impressive of those passes was the one Chalmers begged Wade to convert with 1:09 to play. Chalmers was already past the timeline and nearing the opposite corner moments after LeBron James pulled down a defensive rebound and found Wade with an outlet pass. With his head up and charging hard down the court, Wade immediately spotted Chalmers and was preparing for a long pass.
Frantically, Chalmers began pointing to another player. Trailing the play was Ray Allen, and he was wide open. Wade found him and Allen’s easy layup gave the Heat a 101-93 lead. That eight-point cushion was enough to hold off the Clippers, which lost its second game in back-to-back nights.
As well as the Heat played and as good as it looked, Wade said the team could be better.
“The communication is there, but we’re not totally where we need to be yet,” Wade said. “When our turnovers come down and we’re more consistent — even though things are really popping right now — we still have a ways to go.
“I don’t know how much more you’re going to score, but we can give ourselves more opportunities to score.”
The Heat (4-2) has already been scoring at a record clip. The team has scored more than 100 points in each game this season, which is a franchise record to begin a season, and the efficiency at which the team is playing is the reason for the scoring surge. The Heat had 27 assists on 38 field goals against the Clippers.
One game after James scored 35 points against the Raptors, Wade was the major offensive catalyst against the Clippers. He scored 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, and went 13 of 22 from the field and 3 of 4 from the foul line.
“He’s coming off his most efficient year ever and he was playing hurt in the playoffs and everyone was saying he was done,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Go figure.”
Wade is averaging 20.6 points per game through the first six games of the season.
James, taking a back seat to Wade’s brilliance in the final period, scored 18 points overall and was 6 of 13 from the field. He also had five rebounds and six assists. Chris Bosh scored 12 points in his first game back with the team since the birth of his daughter, Dylan Skye Bosh. Ray Allen had 12 points off the bench and looked like a player half his age doing it. Chris Andersen scored a season-high 10 points in 19 minutes.
Paul finished with 11 points and 12 assists and Blake Griffin, whose dunk late in the fourth quarter was the highlight of the game, had 27 points and 14 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The Clippers (3-3) outrebounded the Heat 38-30.
“It’s like trying to corral a spinning top,” Spoelstra said of trying to contain Paul. “It’s tough.”
The Heat took a 73-70 lead with 1:03 left in the third quarter, but, on the ensuing possession, the Clippers erased the Heat’s largest lead to that point with a three-pointer by Darren Collison. From there, the game went into overdrive. Miami outscored the Clippers 26-24 in the final period.
Spoelstra noted that James was playing with a stiff lower back most of the game. James hurt it diving for a loose ball in the first quarter.
“It’s been going on for a little bit, you know, for a couple weeks,” James said. “I’m just trying to get healthy. But I’m working it.”