The Heat get their first road win of the season with a 104-93 victory over the Toronto Raptors and a strong effort led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade made sure the team would rise above .500.
The Heat didn't make it easy on themselves though from the beginning once again. Falling quickly behind 0-7 with the Raptors punishing Shane Battier inside, the Heat clawed back into the game by scoring their first 14 points all in the paint and showing a willingness to distribute the ball equally.
LeBron reached a milestone with 500 straight games in double-figures in a very strong performance that showed the MVP in mid-season form already. His 36 points were a season high and he went 12-16 in the paint alone with 65% field goal shooting, 8 assists and 8 rebounds.
LeBron had to do plenty of heavy lifting early in the game without Bosh around to help create some offense. The MVP and Wade teamed up to get the Heat going and LeBron closed the half with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Wade also had some strong sequences in the first half to go with 8 points and 5 rebounds, but he contributed on a few of the early Heat miscues that allowed the Raptors to race out to the early lead. At one point, Battier threw himself to the ground to successfully save the ball from a backcourt violation but Wade took his eye off the ball and created the turnover anyway. Wade has also shown a tendency this season to miscue when leaving his feet and kicking the ball back out after penetrating. The Raptors were able to pick off some of his lazier passes in building their lead in the first quarter. Wade finished strong though with 10 points in the third quarter and closed with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Michael Beasley checked in for the first time this season and played well in his four minutes. He immediately scored a three-pointer with his first touch and then promptly made another. He also made the correct pass twice towards the open player near the basket. Unfortunately both times it was to Joel Anthony instead of Bosh or Birdman, but it's an encouraging sign as was his improvement on defense. He blocked one shot and was also able to make a defensive stand without fouling.
The Heat stormed back in the second quarter and an 18-5 run ended the first half, but the break didn't do anything to slow the Heat momentum, with the run increasing to a 28-8 run to open the third quarter. The Heat stretched the lead to 67-57 midway through the quarter. Battier knocked down his second three-pointer during the stretch, which may signal an end to his shooting slump.
A 14-4 run by the Raptors evened the score at 71-71 but the home team then mustered only five points through the rest of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter while the Heat scored 19 points during that stretch.
The Raptors didn't score their first field goal of the fourth quarter until four minutes left in the game as the Heat closed in on their second straight victory. Jonas Valanciunas started hot in the first half with 13 points and 7 rebounds but he only chipped in 5 points in the second. DeMar DeRozan led his team with 21 points in a solid game where his athleticism was on display but he simply didn't get enough help to counter the Heat's strong depth.
Ray Allen knocked down three triples on the way to 14 points off the bench to go along with 4 rebounds and a pair of assists. The Heat bench played a large role tonight as they contributed 36 points in a balanced scoring load. Birdman was needed early to control the paint and chipped in a few nice finishes around the basket. Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis played quality minutes as well.
The Heat owned a clear advantage with 31 assists to the Raptors' 15. According to Sun Sports, this was the first back-to-back game of 30+ assists since January of 1995. Tonight marked the first time in franchise history to score 100+ points in first five games of the season.
"Rashard gave us a huge boost," James remarked after the game to Sun Sports reporter Jason Jackson. "We needed that. Beas came in and gave us a great boost as well. Anytime a man go down we need guys to step up and we had that production tonight."
After a slow start, this was a game in which the Heat steadily gained momentum and got stronger in the second half. So far this season, the defending champs have showed lots of stretches of up and-down play and weak fourth-quarter defense. Even still, the Raptors closed the margin to just 6 points near the end of the game before a LeBron three-point play on a driving move to the basket along with a Ray Allen three-pointer doubled the lead and iced the game.
LeBron also had this special message in his post game interview with Jackson:
"Back home to the Bosh family, congratulations on Dylan. It's an unbelievable feeling - I know - and I look forward to having you back."