Heat 114, Lakers 111, OT
Jermaine O'Neal called it, telling teammates in overtime that the next time someone drove the lane he would be there to take the charge.
That someone was Kobe Bryant.
And O'Neal delivered on his vow.
O'Neal stood his ground with 18.7 seconds left in the extra session and Bryant was whistled for an offensive foul. It was the final turning point as the Miami Heat found a way to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 114-111 in the NBA's wildest back-and-forth game this season.
There were 19 ties and 31 lead changes, two more than any game in the league in 2009-10, and Miami's center stood tallest at the end.
``He was there. He stepped up,'' said Dwyane Wade, who led the Heat with 27 points and 14 assists. ``I saw it coming the whole way. That's J.O. - J.O. not only protects the basket by being a shotblocker, but he also protects it because he can take charges. And that's great. Everybody did their job tonight.''
Bryant went left, looking for a layup that would have tied the game. Instead, O'Neal drew his team-best 19th charge of the season, Carlos Arroyo hit two free throws 0.3 seconds later to make it a two-possession game and Miami held on, winning back-to-back home games for the first time since mid-January.
``We have big-moment, big-player type guys that love to step up to a big challenge like this and aren't afraid of the moment,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``Obviously, Dwyane is like that, Jermaine is like that. Udonis, Quentin will hit big shots. A lot of times it's a fight and an argument to see who's going to shoot the ball. They're not running from it. They want the moment.''
Bryant scored 39 points, including the overtime-forcing jumper for the Lakers, who got 14 points from Derek Fisher and 13 points and 11 rebounds from Lamar Odom.
It wasn't the offensive foul late that seemed to raise the ire of Lakers coach Phil Jackson but rather a foul call that he thought Bryant earned against Wade with a half-minute left in regulation and Los Angeles up by one.
Bryant shot what was ruled an airball; the Lakers insisted Bryant was fouled. Instead, Richardson came down and hit a 3-pointer to put Miami up 99-97 with 11.1 seconds left in regulation.
``I'm sure he didn't shoot an airball. That's unconscionable that that call can't be made at that point in the game, because that's a shooter and there it is,'' Jackson said. ``But they didn't call it and he had to do another miracle to come back and tie the game. But in the overtime, we had our chances.''
Back at .500 now at 31-31, the Heat moved 1 1/2 games clear of Charlotte in the race for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race and within 1 1/2 games of Toronto for the No. 5 spot. Plus, they beat the Lakers at home for the sixth time in the last eight meetings in Miami.
Win or lose, Miami was going to stay in the No. 8 seed after Thursday. But clearly, this one meant a little something extra to the Heat, who hadn't won back-to-back games at home since mid-January.
``We've been struggling a little bit at home this season,'' Richardson said. ``So you know, for us to beat the Lakers in here to start off this little bit of a stand we have, that's good.''
Miami led by nine with 9 minutes remaining in regulation, and still held a 92-84 edge when Wade hit a 3-pointer with 3:40 remaining.
The defending champion Lakers weren't fazed.
They answered with a 9-2 run, capped by Fisher's 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:56 left in regulation, and from there turned almost exclusively to Bryant. He made two free throws in the final minute to give Los Angeles a 97-96 lead, and after Richardson put Miami up 99-97 with his seventh 3-pointer of the night with 11.1 seconds remaining, the stage was Bryant's.
Naturally, he delivered, just as he did with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Miami at Staples Center earlier this season.
He drove right on Wade, pulled up and coolly made a jumper with 3.3 seconds left. And when Wade couldn't get a good look at the buzzer, to overtime it went, knotted at 99.
It was tied five more times in the extra session, and Haslem's jumper with 37.3 seconds left put Miami up 111-109.
From there, Miami found a way.
``We just couldn't get stops,'' Bryant said. ``We basically traded baskets to start the overtime. We didn't execute well defensively. They made big plays, too.''
None bigger than O'Neal taking charge.
NOTES: With the Lakers in town and a marquee matchup like Wade vs. Bryant, the seats were predictably filled by some star power, including Jason Taylor, Albert Pujols, Timbaland, Scottie Pippen, Bryant McKinnie and Will Allen. ... The game began a stretch where the Lakers will play 11 of 14 on the road. ... Retired Heat trainer Ron Culp was back for the game. ... Richardson's 11 points in the third quarter eclipsed his total from 36 full games this season.