Five years to the day after the Celtics snapped Houston’s winning streak at 22 games, LeBron James and the Miami Heat had the rare opportunity to move into a path only one team has traveled in NBA history.
With the game tied at 103, James asked for the ball at the wing, told Ray Allen to run to the corner to space the floor. James stared down Jeff Green, the guy who has singled-handedly kept the Celtics in the game with a career-high 43 points. LeBron took a few dribbles, drifted to his left, pulled up just inside the 3-point line and rattled home a long jumper to give the Heat a 105-103 lead with 10.5 seconds left. It was LeBron walked down the court thumping his chest. His go-ahead basket moved the Heat closer to the L.A. Lakers.
The Celtics had one last possession. Green drove the lane, but Shane Battier made the defensive play of the game by knocking the ball loose and putting the Celtics in a difficult inbounds play under the basket. When Paul Pierce’s 3-point shot bounced off the rim and Dwyane Wade grabbed the rebound, the Heat celebrated their 23rd consecutive victory.
The only team left for the Heat to catch is the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won a record 33 in a row. That record was once thought of as unassailable. But the way the schedule works out, the Heat have at least a shot at the NBA’s version of Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak.
”It means a lot,” James said of the Heat’s 23rd straight win. ”I know the history of the game. To be sitting in second place right now … for us to be there and doing it the way we want to do it, it means a lot.”
Miami has a realistic chance at extending the streak to 29 with Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte, Orlando, Chicago, and New Orleans on the schedule. The March 31 game at San Antonio could pose the biggest road block for the Heat.
Many thought the streak would end in Boston, a place where the Heat have struggled lately since James, Wade, and Chris Bosh joined forces. The Celtics had won 11 in a row at home and had a psychological edge over the Heat.
But the Heat had James, the runaway choice to win MVP in 2013. He finished with 37 points, seven rebounds, and 12 assists. When the Heat needed it most, James delivered. His energy and effort on both ends of the court allowed the Heat to overcome a big Celtics lead. And he punctuated the Heat’s glorious night by hitting the game-winning shot. Remember those days when James couldn’t or wouldn’t take big shots. Those days are long game and the Miami Heat are now running away from teams in the East.
They could go winless the rest of the season and still finish with the No. 1 seeding in the conference. That’s how far they have distanced themselves from the competition.