Heat star LeBron James, recently discussing the defensive matchup with an opponent, said “Good offense beats good defense.”
Monday night, in a 124-107 win at AmericanAirlines Arena against Charlotte, James proved transcendent individual offense can trash good team defense.
Read ’em and gasp: a Heat record and career-high 61 points, beating Glen Rice’s 56 points on April 15, 1995 at Miami Arena against Orlando; a Heat-record 25-point third quarter; and a Heat-record 37 points in the second half. James’ career high also had been 56 points, on March 20, 2005, for Cleveland against Toronto.
“First of all, I was able to do it in a win,” James said. “I probably had three or four just Heat check shots out of rhythm, just taking them. Third thing, to do it with a group of guys I would do anything for. It means so much. These guys are really true brothers of mine.”
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“After three quarters, I wanted to hit 50 on the home floor,” James continued. “This is the first time I’ve scored 50 on the home floor. I’ve done it so many times on the road and to be able to do it on front of these fans. [Coach Erik Spoelstra] said he was going to give me a couple of minutes in the fourth. He gave me more than a few minutes.”
Forward Chris Bosh, who admitted the rest of the Heat started watching James almost like fans, called the game “Phenomenal. Amazing. Stupendous. Immaculate.”
Said Spoelstra: “At a certain point in the fourth quarter, that’s what we were all doing. It was really uncharacteristic for LJ to play that aggressive, looking at the rim and I think obviously that speaks to the type of player he is.”
That’s what dropped the jaws of teammates, coaches and knowledgeable fans. His record night was extremely efficient: 22 of 33 (66.0 percent) from the floor, including 8 of 10 from three-point range, and 9 of 12 from the free throw line. And, as much as James handled the ball — especially with teammates feeding him furiously throughout the last quarter as they wanted him to get 60 — he had only two turnovers.
“That’s Wilt Chamberlain-esque,” Heat forward Shane Battier said, referring to legendary center Wilt Chamberlain.
Added Bosh: “Not many of his shots were forced. We were finding him. He got some easy shots, some transition buckets. Got to the free throw line. All his shots were in rhythm, they were open.”
Charlotte came into the game holding opponents to 97.0 points per game, fourth best in the NBA, and allowing the fewest fast break points per game, leading to only 44.1 percent shooting from the field on defense.
Didn’t matter. James and Charlotte’s Al Jefferson staged a scoring duel in the first half with Jefferson muscling through and over double teams for 26 points to James’ 24.
James said as he came out for the third quarter, Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who sat out the game, yelled at him, “‘You better get 40!’ And I had 40 when he came back out and sat down for the third quarter.”
That’s when it was clear James’ performance could go from memorable to historic. Charlotte kept playing off James, trying to prevent his layups and dunks. So, James popped from the perimeter. Among the five three-pointers James shot in the third — he hit them all — was one from 30 feet or not far from where Heat owner Mickey Arison’s seat.
“We just said, ‘Oh, no, he didn’t! Oh, yes he did!’ We were just laughing,” Battier said. “No one else can do that. One of those special nights.”
James said, “When that one went in, I knew I was really in a good groove. It felt like I had a golf ball and was throwing it into the ocean.”
James finished the quarter with 49 points.
Spoelstra opened his postgame media session with “Well, I’m the guy that almost took him out at the end of the third quarter…”
Charlotte cut the Heat lead to 13, prompting Spoelstra to keep James in until 1:20 remained.
“We knew when he had a quick 18 in the first half, we said, ‘All right, all right. There’s probably a 40-ball in the works,’” Battier said. “He hit 24 in the half and came out blazing in the third quarter. We said, ‘All right, 50-ball is in play.’ Once it got to 45 and there was still time on the clock and our defense wasn’t great, every basket they scored when he hit 45, ‘That’s good for ‘Bron. How about 60 ball?’ Once he sniffed 60, we knew he was going for it.”