The Heat led by 26 with 2:55 left in the second quarter and led by at least 15 points throughout the entirety of the third.
But the Lakers crawled back over the game’s final 12 minutes with the help of former Heat players LeBron James and Avery Bradley, plus the ever-so polarizing Russell Westbrook.
(Yes, Westbrook played in the fourth quarter. That is not a typo or a miscalculation.)
The Lakers scored 37 points (to Miami’s 24) in the final frame. Nine straight from James, who had 11 in the quarter, trimmed Miami’s lead to as little as four with over a minute remaining.
After a (heavily) contested miss from Jimmy Butler (more on his historic night later!), the Lakers had a chance to make it a one possession game. But Bradley’s illegal screen with 37.7 seconds left gave Miami the ball back with a chance to stretch it even further.
But it didn’t, at least not yet. Butler subsequently missed a contested fadeaway over James’ outstretched arm with under 15 seconds left, but P.J. Tucker rebounded the ball in the opposite corner — though the subtle slide of his pivot foot prompted a travel call with seven seconds left.
Caleb Martin’s steal-and-score, courtesy of Talen Horton-Tucker’s errant SLOB pass to James, iced Miami’s 30th victory of the season and moved it into first place in the Eastern Conference at 30-17 with an East-best 16-5 record at home.
Butler set the Heat franchise record for the most triple doubles in franchise history, previously held by James, against...well...James himself.
Butler finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists — 10 in the first half — two steals and one block for his third triple-double of the season, shooting 7-of-18 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the charity stripe.
Duncan Robinson tallied a team-high 25 points with six 3-pointers on 11 attempts, adding five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Bam Adebayo had 14 points, hauling down eight rebounds and dishing five assists on 6-of-10 shooting, in addition to a block and a steal.
Gabe Vincent had 11 points with six assists. Martin recorded 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting with a pair of 3s.
The Heat shot 49.4 percent and 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Lakers shot 45.6 percent, but they shot just 27.5 percent from 3-point range.
James recorded a team-high 33 points on 12-of-22 shooting with 11 rebounds — his 13th double-double of the season — with four assists and two steals. Westbrook finished with 24 points, shooting 9-for-15 from the floor while adding nine rebounds and nine assists.
Bradley, who played 11 games with Miami last season, and Carmelo Anthony were Los Angeles’ only other double figure scorers: Bradley tallied 15 on 4-of-9 shooting from distance while Anthony had 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
While Frank Vogel’s coaching job is already in peril, a loss — albeit a loss where it came back to nearly win the game — doesn’t help matters. The Lakers fall below .500 once again at 23-24.
Adebayo’s layup gave the Heat an early 12-4 lead. Seven straight points from Dedmon followed by Robinson’s third triple of the quarter put Miami ahead 29-14 with 4:13 left in the quarter, prompting a Laker timeout.
A pair of Vincent free throws widened the lead to 20 mid-way through the second quarter. The lead expanded to as big as 26 in the half, but the Lakers closed the final 2:55 on a 12-3 run, heading into halftime down 69-52.
Los Angeles shot 48.6 percent, but hit just four of its 18 first-half 3-point attempts. The Heat, who had 21 assists on 26 made field goals, shot 57.8 percent, including a scorching 64.7 percent (11-17) from distance. Robinson (16 points) and Butler (6 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists) were at the forefront of Miami’s dominant first half performance.
Butler’s corner 3-pointer re-upped the lead to 20, 76-56. Butler’s euro-step finish gave Miami the 87-66 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
Robinson’s 3-pointer widened it to 98-75. Back-to-back 3s from Bradley and Anthony cut the lead to 104-96 with over three minutes remaining. It would to fall to as little as four, but the Heat defense was able to force a couple of key stops to earn the hard-fought victory.
Next up: Miami will host the New York Knicks on Wednesday on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. EST.