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Heat, Cavaliers enter Twilight Zone; Miami emerges with 24th straight win. Barely.

Mar 20, 2013, 11:03 PM EDT

Miami Heat's LeBron James reacts after being fouled during the Heats NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland Reuters

Strangest. Game. Ever… or at least this season. Rod Serling should have done the play-by-play.

In the end, Miami escaped Cleveland with a 98-95 win that extends their winning streak to 24 games. That’s what the history books will show. But like life, this game was not about the results, it was about the journey.

And the journey was wild.

To start, the opening tip was delayed for nearly 45 minutes because the scoreboard was leaking coolant onto the court and had to be lowered to be fixed.

Then once the game did start the undermanned Cavaliers — no Kyrie Irving, no Dion Waiters, no Anderson Varejao — the Cavaliers not only hung in but also went on a 23-2 run to close out the half and lead by 21. The Cavaliers played harder and were more physical than a Heat team that was cold and seemingly disinterested. Tristan Thomas led the way 12 points and 5 rebounds in the first half (he finished with 18-8)

That Cleveland lead climbed all the way to 27 early in the third quarter, 67-40.

Then the Heat came back with a vengeance — a 43-12 run fueled by pressure defense threes (the Heat opened the second half hitting 8-14 threesm Mario Chalmers hit 4-of-5 from three on his way to 17 points for the game). Miami had come out trapping on defense and pressuring the ball, and over the course of the half the Cavaliers were starting their offense farther and farther away from the rim. Miami was playing like the team that won 23 in a row and it overwhelmed the Cavs.

Then a Cavs fan wearing “LeBron 2014 Come Back” T-Shirt rushes the court and is taken off by security. (If you’re trying to convince LeBron to return, being the crazy guy running on the court mid-game is not helping your cause. Just sayin’.)

After that Miami looks like they are going to run away with it and cruise to a win. The Heat lead gets up to 8… but then the Cavaliers answer with a 7-0 run of their own.

It was a one-point game with :44 seconds left. Both teams had a chance to win it (or ice the win) but both teams missed jump shots — Dwywane Wade with a 20-foot step back miss off a Chris Bosh pick, then a Wayne Ellington isolation missed three over Ray Allen (Ellington led the Cavs with 20 points). As the game got tight both teams played too much hero ball and only Alonzo Gee — who had some great baseline drives and dunks around LeBron on his way to 10 points — seemed to have any success that way.

In the end, LeBron hit a couple free throws to add to his triple-double — 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. As it has been on this streak, he is the guy at the heart of it all.

“We had to dig deep for this one,” LeBron said in a televised post-game interview. “We already know, like I said this morning, every team is going to give us a good shot no matter their record, no matter who is on the floor, we are going to get their best. And we should enjoy that, we should embrace it because it picks up our level of intensity as well.”

There would have been something fitting about the Heat winning streak dying in Cleveland, something cathartic for Cavaliers fans. The reason it’s still alive is the maturity and additions to LeBron James’ games that he has added since leaving the Cavs. Which is a tough pill to swallow in Cleveland, despite playing the kind of game they can be proud of.

  1. trimaster1 - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    It’s funny: It was a mere two years ago that lebron was hated and he was criticized for not showing up in the big games.

    Funny how things change. Quickly.

    Now, Lebron and his team are doing somehting neither Jordan or Kobe have done: won 24 straight games 9and counting.) I honestdon’t think they’ll break the record, but they’ll come close, and if they win a championship this year, their legacy is secured.

    If they win the championship, the next debate will be if this was the best team EVER.

    That’s be a great debate for sure.

    But when all is said and done, there will be a strong case for Lebron being the best basketball player EVER.

    • pantsfreezone - Mar 21, 2013 at 6:39 PM

      I love this Heat team but the 72-10 Bulls are still the best team ever. These guys are top three, maybe even top 2.

      And for all the love LeBron gets (well deserved) Shane Battier is the Heat’s MVP 2 of the streak. How many big shots, big defensive plays and just heady plays all around has the guy made? It seems like anytime the Heat need a veteran to step up, he’s there.

  2. doctordunkenstein - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    2 years ago, this guy was the most hated and clowned on basketball player in the nba…what a difference a championship makes!!

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