That is, until the Miami Heat saved their very best for the very end.
James found Ray Allen for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds left, highlighting a nine-point run to end the game and lift the Heat to a 110-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Miami held the lead for just two minutes and 29 seconds. Cleveland led 108-101 with 1:58 remaining, before the reigning NBA champions found a way to stay perfect at home.
“It speaks to the competitive will that the guys have at the end of close games,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have a lot of gamers in that locker room. They rise to the occasion. They want situations like that. That can be dangerous, as well.”
James finished with 30 points for the Heat. Chris Bosh scored 23 points, Dwyane Wade added 18 and Allen finished with 17 — 15 in the fourth quarter — for the Heat, who lost Shane Battier in the third quarter to a sprained right knee.
Of the nine Cleveland players who logged minutes, everyone but Tyler Zeller scored at least 10 points. Jeremy Pargo and Dion Waiters each scored 16 for Cleveland, which got 15 from Omri Casspi, 13 from Tristan Thompson, 12 from Alonzo Gee, 11 from Gibson, a 10-point, 15-rebound night from Anderson Varejao and 10 more points from CJ Miles.
The Cavaliers were 14-for-31 from 3-point range, forced 18 turnovers and turned them into 22 points, led by 13 points in the third quarter — and still fell to 1-7 against Miami since James’ infamous decision to leave Cleveland and join the Heat in July 2010.
“Tough loss,” Varejao said. “We had control of the whole game and at the end we gave away easy layups and we didn’t play smart on offense and we lost the game.”
After Allen’s 3-pointer, Cleveland had a good look at the lead, but Wade blocked Pargo’s jumper with three seconds left.
“I liked my chances to at least make it a tough shot,” Wade said.
Allen added one free throw to stretch the lead to two, and when he missed the second try, Cleveland controlled the rebound with 0.6 seconds left, but never got anything near the rim.
“Our guys showed a lot of guts, but it’s just the little things that are killing us, the little things that are killing us especially at the end,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “We just haven’t figured it out yet and we did a couple of bonehead things towards the end of the game.”
Cleveland controlled virtually the entire game, and led by eight midway through the fourth. James and Allen made consecutive 3-pointers to start a Heat flurry, and a free throw by Wade with 3:09 left tied it at 101.
But Varejao tipped in a rebound on the next Cleveland trip, Waiters hit two free throws after a clear-path foul against Mario Chalmers, and the Cavs seemed to have all but sealed it on a 3-pointer by Gibson for a 108-101 edge.
The Cavs were thrilled.
It was temporary, as the Heat found a way to survive and move to 6-0 at home. The biggest three of the night was the one that Allen hit late, after he and James — who also teamed up on what became an Allen four-point play to lift Miami over Denver earlier this month — were in synch again.
“I’m able to be the Tom Brady of the play all the time,” James said. “For some reason, it ends up in my hand and I find Ray. Big-time shot.”
Allen said he’s not surprised he and James are already clicking.
“He’s a great passer,” Allen said. “He attacks throughout the whole game. Me, what I’ve been doing, I’m just trying to read him.”
The second quarter could be summed up by one stat-sheet disparity: While Miami was 5-for-13 from the floor in the period, Cleveland was 6-for-13 — from 3-point range alone.
Sure enough, threes were wild for the Cavs in the first half.
Casspi’s beat-the-clock try from beyond the arc gave Cleveland a 29-26 lead after one quarter, and the Cavs just kept firing. Cleveland held the lead for the entire second quarter, stretching it to 59-48 at the break after an 8-0 run — fueled by threes from Casspi and Pargo. The Cavs were 10-of-19 from beyond the arc in the half.
And even when the Heat remembered to defend the three, the plan backfired.
Wade fouled Gee behind the stripe with 9:48 left in the third, Gee connected on all three free throws, and Cleveland held a 65-53 lead — then its largest of the night. The lead was still 12 when the Heat made their first big run, scoring 11 straight to get within 68-67 when Battier made a 3-pointer from the left corner.
But on the next Cleveland possession, Battier landed awkwardly while defending at the rim, remained down for a few moments, then awkwardly ran into the Miami locker room. A team spokesman said Battier felt much better after the game.
So did all his teammates.
“We need to get out of here as quickly as we can, before they put more time on the clock,” Spoelstra said.
Heat 110, Cavaliers 108
CLEVELAND (108): Gee 4-8 3-5 12, Thompson 6-7 1-2 13, Varejao 2-9 6-7 10, Pargo 4-13 6-8 16, Waiters 5-14 3-4 16, Zeller 2-6 1-2 5, Gibson 4-9 1-1 11, Casspi 4-6 3-4 15, Miles 4-7 0-0 10. Totals 35-79 24-33 108.
MIAMI (110): James 10-16 8-9 30, Battier 3-5 0-0 9, Bosh 6-11 11-13 23, Chalmers 1-3 2-2 4, Wade 6-15 6-10 18, Haslem 1-1 0-0 2, Allen 6-11 2-3 17, Cole 1-3 0-0 2, Miller 2-4 0-0 5, Anthony 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 36-69 29-37 110.
Cleveland 29 30 20 29 — 108
Miami 26 22 29 33 — 110
3-Point Goals—Cleveland 14-31 (Casspi 4-4, Waiters 3-9, Miles 2-4, Pargo 2-4, Gibson 2-7, Gee 1-2, Varejao 0-1), Miami 9-19 (Allen 3-5, Battier 3-5, James 2-5, Miller 1-3, Chalmers 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Cleveland 43 (Varejao 15), Miami 51 (Bosh, Wade 7). Assists—Cleveland 21 (Pargo 7), Miami 21 (James 5). Total Fouls—Cleveland 29, Miami 25. A—20,064 (19,600).