Our ninth entry is also a Christmas Day game featuring a superstar return to the place he won multiple Finals MVPs, but 10 years after that battle. Yes, I’m talking about LeBron James’ first game against the Heat since announcing “I’m Going Home” in July 2014.
After starting off the season 5-2, Miami played unevenly and went into the game against the Cavaliers with a 13-16 record. And Chris Bosh was hurt — this was before his season-ending blood clots.
Although some Heat fans were miffed at LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland, the crowd gave him loud cheers at the introduction. (During a first-half video tribute, LeBron got a standing ovation.) But shortly after the opening tip, it was clear that Dwyane Wade — who struggled through the 2014 NBA Finals — had gotten up to play. A minute into the game, he deflected a pass and darted out for a fast-break layup.
Wade continued to cook early on, making nice moves on Shawn Marion in the post and sinking mid-range jumpers. But at the 2:28 mark of the first quarter, he dunked over Kevin Love on a put-back dunk after a Norris Cole miss. This was Vintage Wade. This was Father Prime.
Late in the second quarter, Miami had built a 17-point lead. Wade was in the midst of a 24-point first half, and Luol Deng was also playing well. Deng was defending LeBron and forcing him into tough shots, and also giving an all-around game offensively. He finished the game with 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Erik Spoelstra made sure that Deng was there to guard LeBron every single moment — both James and Deng logged 40 minutes and two seconds during the game. After the Heat signed Deng, Pat Riley called it “one of the most important free agent signings we have ever had.” He played that way on Christmas, though it wasn’t until Bosh went down the next season that Deng hit his stride at the four with the Heat.
Pat Riley: “Signing Luol Deng is one of the most important free agent signings that we have ever had in the history of the franchise."— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) July 15, 2014
Of course, the Cavaliers cut into the Miami lead. In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, a LeBron breakaway dunk gave Cleveland their first lead since it was 2-0. Deng and Wade helped Miami build a 90-81 lead, but at the 3:43 mark, Dion Waiters stole the ball from Wade. He threw the ball ahead to LeBron, to threw it down. And to make matters worse, Danny Granger (remember him?) committed a weak foul just as LeBron dunked. The score was 90-84.
Granger redeemed himself when he made a 3 with 2:37 left to make it a 93-87 game. And he later made a jumper with 1:19 left to put Miami up 97-87. The Heat held on for the 101-91 victory.