CLEVELAND (AP) — The jilted billionaire owner offered an olive branch. The scoreboard leaked fluid, causing a long delay. The home team, missing its top three scorers, built a mammoth lead over the defending NBA champions. A fan sprinted onto the court, hoping to convince LeBron James to come back home.
Just an ordinary night in Cleveland.
James made it a memorable one, and kept Miami’s streak alive.
Refusing to concede anything, James scored 25 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — and the Heat, trailing by 27 in the third quarter, rallied for a 98-95 win Wednesday night over the Cavaliers to extend their winning streak to 24 games and move within nine of matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the longest in NBA history.
“This was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life with everything that happened,” James said. “It also was one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been a part of.”
He made it happen.
With the Heat trailing by nine points entering the fourth quarter, James made a 3-pointer and layup before draining another long 3 to tie it at 77 with 10:28 left. After his shot dropped through the net, James turned toward the sellout crowd in Quicken Loans Arena and delivered any icy stare to many of the same faces who cheered him during his seven seasons as a member of the Cavaliers.
This was his moment, the one he and his teammates would remember.
“When he made that one and turned around and looked at the crowd, you knew it was coming,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
James and his teammates have insisted the Lakers’ record, once believed to be untouchable but now within their reach, isn’t a goal. And for more than 30 minutes, they seemed disinterested and were on the verge of losing for the first time since Feb. 1. Miami trailed 67-40 with 7:44 left in the third quarter, and there weren’t many signs that they were going to make it a game.
But Shane Battier made three 3-pointers as the Heat closed the third quarter with a 28-10 run and the irrepressible James, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 42 minutes, did the rest in the fourth as the Heat inched closer to history while matching the NBA’s biggest comeback this season.
It was the second game in a row where the Heat had to rally. They were down by 17 points — 13 in the fourth quarter — and stormed back to beat Boston 105-103 on Monday and surpass the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest streak in NBA history.
“I knew there was a lot of time, so we never panicked,” James said. “We were down 27 with 18 minutes left. That’s a lifetime in basketball.”
Although the Cavs were missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao — their top three scorers — they pushed Miami to the limit.
It wasn’t until James, playing his fourth game back in Cleveland since leaving three years ago, made two free throws with 4.7 seconds left that Miami could relax, but just a little.