HOUSTON — There’s a convenient juxtaposition, if that’s what you’re looking for, between the guy who scored 38 and the guy who tossed up an airball, wide open, with the game in the balance.
That, however, would seem a bit silly, and a lot unfair to Jeremy Lin, who did throw up an airball with nine seconds left in a game the Miami Heat won over the Houston Rockets 113-110 Monday at Toyota Center, but does not deserve to be held to a superstar’s standard.
That’s LeBron James’ territory, and in a game the Rockets led by eight with six minutes left, a game on the road, a game that would have otherwise made for back-to-back losses for the defending-champion Heat (6-2), James lowered his nose, pursed his lips and coldly shot down the Rockets (3-4).
There was an age in NBA history when people loudly wondered if James had that kind of thing in him. That age now seems prehistoric.
“I mean, how did anybody ever question it?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Looking back on it now, in big moments, this guy is the ultimate competitor. He gets absolutely amplified in these situations. You can see him coming to life.”
James had 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. After Marcus Morris hit a 3 over him to put Houston up eight, James plainly took over the game. He immediately answered Morris’ 3 with one of his own. Three possessions later he found Chris Bosh for a dunk that made it a one-point game. Then he drilled a 3 from 27 feet that pulled the Heat to within one with 1:49 to play.
But wait, there’s more.
James scored five more points over the final 1:19, his driving layup past Carlos Delfino giving Miami the lead for good with 18.6 seconds left.
“It’s the zone,” James said. “I think you guys all hear about players being able to get into a zone. I wish you could get into it more, but when you’re in it, you know how you feel.”
Down 111-110, Houston still had a chance with 9.9 seconds left. A good chance. About as good a chance as you can ever hope for in a situation like that. The Heat made a defensive mistake, and Lin found himself wide open from the wing.
Airball. Yep, airball.
“It just didn’t come off right,” Lin said. “It was a good shot for me, a quality shot for me. It didn’t go in for me today, unfortunately.”
So the Heat survived a loopy night in Houston. They were up 22-5 at one point, and getting just about anything they wanted. The Rockets started out with Chandler Parsons on James, James Harden on Dwyane Wade and Omer Asik on Chris Bosh.
The Heat, who last year made it their personal mission to end the age known as “Linsanity” (and succeeded), put Mario Chalmers on Lin and Wade on Harden, with some trapping from Bosh.
That was a highly successful strategy. But eventually the Heat went to their bench, and Houston made its run. Parsons hit five 3s and led the Rockets with 25, but Harden (22), Asik (19) and Patrick Patterson (17) started to look like a starting five that was figuring itself out.
Houston took its first lead with five minutes left in the third quarter, and the Heat knew they were in for a fight.
Bosh had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Wade had 19 and seven, but it became clear in the fourth quarter that, in front of a sellout crowd that started to sense a big win for the league’s youngest team, the Heat were going to need something a little bit heroic.
“LeBron was hitting some unbelievable shots,” said Kelvin Sampson, who is filling in for Rockets coach Kevin McHale while he tends to a personal matter. “That was a tough fight where both teams were just fighting. They got the last punch.”
James didn’t seem to think much of it. Thinking much of it is something for a bygone era.
“My team needed me to score a little more tonight,” he said. “I just tried to take control of the offense.”