LeBron James left the Nets stunned and their coach speechless.
The only people who knew how to describe what they were seeing were the New Jersey fans.
James scored Miami’s final 17 points in a furious one-man rally, finishing with 37 as the Heat pulled out a 101-98 victory over the Nets on Monday night.
In a game the Heat never led until the final 51 seconds, James willed them to their 10th straight victory over the Nets. With Dwyane Wade resting, James scored those 17 points over the last 4:48 of a game that immediately goes into his personal collection of memorable finishes.
”We were able to grind away and not let it go mentally, and that guy, No. 6, he was pretty good going down the stretch,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”He was sensational. Obviously, he made every big play offensively. I believe it was 17 straight to close the game. That’s what an MVP does and we needed it at both ends. But also on a night like this, you can come up with a lot of excuses to not bring that type of performance, but that’s not the type of DNA he has inside of him. The Nets played well but we found a way at the end.”
Actually, James did.
He wasn’t sure he was going back in as the fourth quarter reached its midway point. But once he did, he pushed past the Nets with an array of layups, jumpers and free throws, pulling Miami within 2 1/2 games of Chicago for the Eastern Conference lead.
”We want to win every last game to close it out,” James said. ”We don’t want to lose again the rest of the season. Ultimately we can to continue to get better.”
Chris Bosh had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Heat, carrying them early in the fourth until James checked back in midway through the period and turned what appeared a certain loss into a stunning victory.
Kris Humphries scored 29 points and MarShon Brooks had 24 for the Nets, who played without Deron Williams and lacked the finisher they needed against one of the NBA’s best.
”The guy’s just so big and strong. We attempted to double-team him twice, and he just overpowered our guys, and then when the third defender came, he beat the third defender; and then, when we fouled him, he still scored. So just an … you know … I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said.
Miami won for the sixth straight time in New Jersey, a road game in name only. James never thought he would hear cheers on the road again after joining the Heat, but he earned all of them no matter where the game was.
”I enjoyed it,” said Wade, resting his ankle while the Heat improved to 12-1 without him this season. ”I am a fan of the game, so I enjoyed it. He doesn’t get any credit for his scoring ability. I enjoy watching him take over a game like that. It’s fun. Obviously being his teammate, it’s even funner.”
The Nets led by 13 points in the third quarter and were still up seven with under 2 1/2 minutes left, but by then James was almost midway through his finishing kick.
He finally gave the Heat a lead with a driving basket that made it 97-96 with 51 seconds left, then followed with a short jumper for a 99-96 edge with the crowd chanting ”Let’s go Heat!” Two free throws with 10.6 seconds followed for a five-point lead before a meaningless basket by Brooks with 0.4 seconds to play.
”Good as I thought, good as a video game. He’s a good player, you know,” the Nets’ Gerald Green said. ”I thought we had a great chance to beat them anyway even though he played great tonight, but that’s just the nature of this game when you face guys like that every night.”
The Heat, also resting Shane Battier and Ronny Turiaf, won their third straight after consecutive losses and completed a back-to-back sweep in the New York area following Sunday’s 93-85 victory over the Knicks.
A night later, away from the national TV spotlight, had all the makings of a letdown that James wouldn’t allow.
”They had a nine-point lead,” Bosh said. ”We didn’t want to let this one go, especially after yesterday, so we just playing, kept chipping away, and you know eventually everything worked out.”
The Nets held a small lead for the first two-plus quarters before seizing control with a 16-5 burst. Humphries made a couple of jumpers, Green hit two 3-pointers, and it was 74-61 on Brooks’ jumper with 3:10 remaining in the third period.
The Heat answered with nine straight points to cut it to four, but the Nets came right back with five straight, with Green nailing a turnaround 3-pointer from the corner just before the buzzer to send New Jersey to the fourth quarter with a 79-70 lead.
Bosh scored Miami’s first eight points of the fourth as James sat the first half of the period, giving him all the energy he needed for the final stretch.
The Nets were also without Gerald Wallace (strained left hamstring) and turned to a lineup heavy with NBA Development League experience that was nearly good enough.
Smoke lingered over the court during the game’s opening minutes after fireworks, but it was the Heat who were in a fog. New Jersey made seven of its first 11 shots and took a six-point lead, holding on for a 34-29 advantage after one even though Miami shot 71 percent from the field.
The Nets never gave up the lead in the first half, taking a 55-52 lead into the break behind 17 points from Humphries and 13 from Brooks.
Notes: The Nets held a moment of silence before the game for former center Dwayne Schintzius, who died Sunday at 43 following complications from a failed bone marrow transplant after a 2-year battle with cancer. … Despite their recent dominance of the series, the Heat will finish will an all-time losing record (24-25) in New Jersey. Miami’s top current streak is 11 in a row against Philadelphia, a team it could meet in the playoffs. … Athletes in the crowd included Victor Cruz, Justin Tuck and Antrel Rolle of the New York Giants, D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets, and soccer star Thierry Henry.