The game started with a slight wrinkle as Head Coach Erik Spoelstra inserted Greg Oden into the starting lineup in place of Shane Battier. Oden was better equipped to guard All-Star Dwight Howard and would also allow Chris Bosh to slide to his more natural power forward position.
But Houston's offense was too well-balanced (led by Howard's 8 early points) and a Jeremy Lin 3-point play cut the Heat lead to 1, until an Allen 24-footer ended the first quarter with Miami up 32-28.
The second period was tightly-contested with Lin taking advantage of Norris Cole's struggling defense. Mario Chalmers picked up his third foul with over six minutes left in the quarter; Cole picked up his third mere seconds later. Toney Douglas (!) saw some limited action but Spoelstra eventually went without a true point guard to close the half.
The highlight of the quarter (if not the game) for the Heat came on an inbounds play with 0.7 seconds left on the shot clock midway through the period. Dwyane Wade (24 points on 10-of-15 shooting) executed a perfect pass to LeBron James, coming off a great screen by Bosh. James fell back off one foot and hit a 15-foot jumper as time expired. A perfect combination of good coaching, excellent execution and other-worldly athleticism.
The half ended with some interesting behind-the-scenes action regarding talkative Rockets guard Patrick Beverley.When these two teams met previously less than two weeks ago, Heat veteran Udonis Haslem got into a heated "discussion" with Beverley. Haslem spoke to officials during a timeout in this game and, according to ABC broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy, pointed out how Beverley's physical play was, well, too physical. Seconds later, Beverley was called for a foul but he would get his revenge instantly taking the ball coast-to-coast and eluding Cole, James and as HotHotHoops' Issac Koppel phrased it "dunked on everybody."
The Heat lead evaporated early in the third quarter with James Harden getting rewarded for flopping into Chalmers and hitting two free throws as a result. Miami bounced back but saw a 7-point turn into a 4-point deficit. Houston's Chandler Parsons (12 points, 4 steals) was particularly effective, defending James well and forcing turnovers with his long reach.
The fourth quarter was Allen's time to shine, as he hit another 24-footer as the period began. Ray had 14 of his 25 points to close out the game (including three 3-pointers). Wade was also impressive in the fourth, playing Harden well, diving for a loose ball and being rewarded at the offensive end with a jump shot and foul call that tied the game at 92. Then, a Harden 3-pointer pushed the Rockets' lead to 5 and a Beverly shot with just over 4 minutes left nearly put the game out of reach.
But Houston's offense got sloppy, mixing in turnovers with poor shot selection. Six missed shots in a row - and a 10-run by Miami - ensured that the Rockets' losing streak would increase to three games.
It was a good win over an improved Houston team (dropping to 44-22) that just seemed to implode at the end. The Rockets were led by Harden's 30 points (11 of which came on free throws), Howard's 21 points and 14 rebounds as well as Beverley's 15 points and 4 steals.
The game was far from pretty but there was a sense that Miami got a monkey off its back, even if it was just a primate of the regular season variety. Oden, while seemingly ineffective statistically (0 points, 6 rebounds and 4 fouls in 13 minutes), was actually a positive factor and his play against Howard was encouraging despite some fouls that probably shouldn't have been called. James was good for his usual 24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals but showed some aggression that hadn't been seen in recent Miami losses.
Miami (now 45-19) moves on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena. Expect talk to center around James recent participation in a ceremony to honor ex-Cavalier (and Heat player) Zydrunas Ilgauskas.