It isn't often where a regular season game will live up to the hype or expectations that lead up to it. This is something that Heat fans are well aware of and probably know better then most, especially this season. There has been so much attention surrounding the team that it seems like every other game has some kind of underlying story, and the games rarely end up being as good as they are made out to be.
Tonight in Miami that was not the case though. The Heat have getting plenty of attention thanks to their 5-game losing streak and the recent development known as ‘Crygate', while the Lakers are getting their fair share of ink due to winning 8 consecutive games. All that, combined with the defending champs facing off against the star-studded Heat and you've got yourself a boatload of anticipation. On this night, it was all worth waiting for as the Lakers and Heat put on one hell of a show.
The early stages of this game saw both teams trying to set the tone for the way they wanted things to go. One of the difference makers at the beginning of the game for Miami was Mario Chalmers. He forced a couple of steals on the defensive end and drilled a pair of 3-pointers on offense. Both triples were responded to by Kobe Bryant, once completing a 3-point play after a foul and the other by just pulling up and hitting a trey.
It was Kobe that did all the work early on for the Lakers, hitting his first 4 shots and scoring L.A.'s first 10 points. A welcome sight to my eyes was how often Miami was driving with the ball instead of just settling for pullup J's. Instead, they were getting points at the rim and after driving with the ball were able to dish it out for wide open looks from our long-range shooters.
The Heat closed out the opening quarter very well. They outscored the Lakers 12-4 over the last 3+ minutes, making 5 of their last 7 shots. Chris Bosh didn't get a ton of touches early on, but he would gradually begin to make a difference. Bosh started by making the most of his opportunities, and made good on his comments about wanting to create more of a down low presence. After just a few minutes had passed in the 2nd quarter, Bosh was 4-of-5 from the field with all 8 of his points coming from inside the painted area.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were giving the Heat the most trouble, but late in the half it was becoming a back-and-fourth battle between Gasol and Bosh. Following a half that featured 10 lead changes and 10 ties, it was Miami holding the slim 55-53 advantage at the break. While the Lakers were led by Bryant's game-leading 17 points and Gasol's 14, it was none other then Chris Bosh who was leading the Heat with 16 points, the majority of which coming from in or around the paint.
Bosh had emphasized that he wanted both himself and his team to produce more down low, and in the 1st half against the Lakers they did just that. Miami scored 26 of its 55 points in the paint. They out-rebounded Los Angeles 23 to 15, and of the Heat's 12 offensive rebounds they were able to score 15 second chance points. Miami had certainly brought their hard hats to the AAA on Thursday night and came prepared to work.
As the 2nd half got underway both teams were having trouble putting points on the board. In the first 4+ minutes Miami had 7 offensive possessions; they shot 0-for-5 from the field and turned the ball over twice. Dwyane Wade hit a triple to finally get things started for the Heat, but both he and LeBron were shooting poorly and still were settling for pullup jumpers. This is something that I'll never fully understand considering that both are some of the best in the word at driving with the basketball.
The poor shot selection and carelessness with the ball by Miami allowed the Lakers to go on a 9-0 run and take a 6-point lead late in the 3rd quarter. The Heat trimmed it down to 2 heading into the final quarter, then Mike Bibby added back-to-back triples which turned into an 8-1 Miami run that moved them back into the lead. The next few minutes saw the lead to back and fourth, and the level of play gave every indication that the remainder of this game was going to be pretty awesome.
When the game got under the 5-minute mark, that's when the action really started to pick up. Dwyane Wade finally began driving the ball, which resulted in a pair of beautiful layups on consecutive possessions. Then Kobe broke a streak of 7 straight misses by drilling a triple with Wade's hand in his face to put L.A. up by 1, but he wasn't done there.
A couple of possessions later, this time with Miami up by 3 thanks to more D-Wade points in the paint, Kobe took a pass from Ron Artest about 3-4 feet behind the 3-point line. He immediately put the ball up like it was a routine shot and it went straight through the rim, touching nothing but the bottom of the net. Absolutely ridiculous...what a shot.
The game remained tied into the final 90 seconds. Kobe held the ball above the 3-point line, waiting for his teammates to clear out and give him space to drive. When he finally made his move towards the basket, D-Wade was ready for him. Dwyane poked the ball away from Bryant and dove after it. He fed the ball up the floor to a streaking LeBron James who slammed it home and put Miami up by 2.
The Lakers couldn't capitalize on their next possession despite multiple opportunities. Great Heat D forced a very tough shot by Ron Artest that went off the rim, but Miami knocked it out of bounds. Then came the real ‘head scratcher'...L.A. had the ball with a full shot clock, down by 2 with 1:08 left. They inbounded to Kobe who again put up an immediate 3-pointer, but D-Wade was all over him and got a piece of the shot, which came up about a foot or so short of the rim.
Miami then caught a huge break because Ron Artest caught the ball and had an easy look at a layup, but couldn't convert. Big Z tipped the rebound out, off of the rim on what initially looked like it could have been goaltending, but after watching the replay it did look as though the ball was on its way off the rim, though I could see that call going either way. Just like in Miami's last game when they called that foul on Mike Miller, it's all about how it looks to the official when going full speed.
On the other end of the floor, the ball was in Dwyane Wade's hands and he made the most of the opportunity, driving at and around Gasol and converting the layup, causing the capacity crowd inside the AAA to explode as the Heat went up by 4 with 46 seconds left. Miami finally got some execution late in a game, and it resulted in a victory.
Erik Spoelstra put the ball in D-Wade's hands and he responded by going 4-for-5 in the final 6 minutes of the game, scoring 8 of his 20 points. Both he and LeBron struggled throughout the night, but it was Wade that began to drive the ball and regain his confidence, which may or may not be why Spo put the ball in his hands down the stretch.
- Mario Chalmers came out on fire, hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in the 1st quarter. He went ice cold after that though, finishing 3-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 from downtown.
- As a team the Heat went just 12-for-18 from the charity stripe.
- Following the loss, Kobe Bryant returned to the main court of the AAA and did shooting drills for almost an hour. He said that he had done this kind of thing before, though the last time was during the playoffs in 2004.
- Coming into the game Mike Miller had made just 1 of his last 12 from downtown, but hit on 2-of-3 from beyond the arc against the Lakers.
- D-Wade started out just 2-for-10 from the field but would finish the game making 7 of his last 13. Along with his 20 points he had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and a block.
- Leading the Heat in points and rebounds was Chris Bosh. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting and 9 rebounds.
- Finally a good night for Miami's bench, who outscored the Lakers reserves 22-16. It was all done by just 3 guys though, as Mike Miller had 12, Mike Bibby had 6 and Big Z had 4.
- Another game, another almost triple double for LeBron James. He finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists.
- Andrew Bynum had a less then stellar 1st half of 6 points and 1 rebound, but after getting a Phil Jackson 'pep talk' during the break he came out and had a monster 2nd half. After collecting 4 points and 7 boards in the 3rd quarter alone, he finishing the game with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
- The win clinched a playoff spot for Miami.
Now that the losing streak is over, we'll see how the Heat players respond when they continue their homestand on Saturday afternoon against Memphis. The experience gained over the past few weeks could end up being extremely valuable to Miami in the long run, but only time will tell.