The Miami Heat were sharp from the beginning but were almost undone by Blake Griffin's power game and Jamal Crawford's shooting late in the game but did just enough to squeak by the Los Angeles Clippers for the hard-fought 116-112 victory.
LeBron James led the Heat with a complete game totaling 31 points (11-20 FG shooting), 12 assists and 8 rebounds. All five Heat starters scored in double-digits, including Birdman's 12 timely points and Ray Allen with 15 huge points off the bench, eleven of which came in the fourth quarter. Dwyane Wade scored 14 points and dished out eight assists in his 700th regular-season game.
When asked about the most important aspect of walking away victorious after one of the most entertaining Heat games of this season, LeBron didn't hesitate to respond.
"I just think our mental toughness," he said. "Especially in the fourth quarter when they made their run. We just stayed composed and we found a way to get a win, and we found a way to get a stop and executive offensively and we put out a tough win."
LeBron's defensive duties included covering Blake Griffin in the fourth quarter, who torched Miami with 43 points, the most from any opponent this season, and 15 rebounds, 9 of which came off the offensive glass. The Clippers dominated with 52 rebounds (21 on offense) compared to just 31 rebounds for Miami. With their staring backcourt of Chris Paul and JJ Redick missing due to injury, shooting guard Jamal Crawford had yet another dominant performance against the Miami Heat, the latest of which netted him 31 points highlighted by five three-pointers.
The Heat began the game making their first six field goals with all starters scoring to guide them to an early lead. The visitors eventually went on a 15-4 run and closed the quarter shooting 14-17 from the field. The Heat ended up shooting 70% from the field in the first quarter with 15 assists setting a franchise mark for most in any quarter, highlighting just how well the team was moving the ball around to find the open shooter. The team only had one turnover and set a season high mark with 36 first quarter points. Shane Battier led the team with 8 first quarter points, closing the quarter with a three-point dagger and then following it up with another one to open the second quarter.
The Heat's biggest lead in the second quarter swelled to 19 points but Griffin (22 first half points) and Crawford kept them in the game, with 40 combined points out of 55 at halftime.
The Clippers cut the lead down to five points in the third quarter but the Heat responded with an 8-0 run consisting of a Chris Bosh three-pointer, a LeBron dunk in transition off a Clippers turnover and then a Mario Chalmers trey all in the span of less than a minute.
The Heat boosted their lead later on in the quarter with a quick 7-0 run, again in one minute, but the Clippers opened with a 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter. Allen's four-point play with eight minutes remaining kept the home team at bay but they came back with ten straight points to cut the deficit to just two points.
The two teams traded baskets down the stretch, with the Clippers either scoring or grabbing an offensive rebound for a put-back score or a trip to the foul line. In the end, LeBron's brilliance coupled with Ray's corner three were just enough to overcome the shorthanded Clippers.