Miami Heat forward LeBron James was ready to begin his semi-vacation.
The chances of him allowing Wednesday’s game the Golden State Warriors to go into overtime were as slim as him missing a breakaway dunk.
It just wasn’t going to happen.
The Heat were either going to win or lose in regulation.
Trailing by two, it came as no surprise when James faded for a 3-point attempt over the outstretched arms of Warriors forward Andre Iguodala. The shot swished through the net with two-tenths of a second remaining, sending the Heat to a thrilling 111-110 victory at Oracle Arena.
“I was going for the win the whole time,” James said. “I just wanted to make sure either I made it and there was no time left or I missed it and there was no time left. It was my only mindset. It’s a big shot.”
Now, the Heat can go into the NBA All-Star Break on a positive. James finished with 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. It was the eighth time he came within two assists or rebounds of a triple-double, a feat that has eluded him this season. Center Chris Bosh did his part by contributing 19 points and five rebounds, but the night belonged to James.
The effort was enough to offset the Heat playing a second straight game without guard Dwyane Wade, who sat with a sore left foot. Wade, who was a late scratch from the lineup, watched the game from the locker room.
“All I heard [from the crowd] was `ohhhh,” Wade said. “So I knew something happened. LeBron is cut from a cloth of guys if you’re on the road All-Star Weekend, you’re going for the 3 … It was an unbelievable finish. You can’t guard it no better than it was guarded. He hit an unbelievable shot.”
It was James’ second consecutive 30-point game since producing perhaps his worst effort of the season in Saturday’s loss to the Utah Jazz. He also played the entire fourth quarter, staving off fatigue to hit the game-winner.
“He was exhausted,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I had to call a timeout at the 5-minute mark because he was expending so much energy on both sides of the court. Multiple efforts generating so much offense for us on the other end … It’s competition at its best, at its finest and that’s what competitors want in a game like this.”
The Heat in the second half were in danger of blowing a 21-point lead before James provided the escape route. The Warriors, behind guard Stephen Curry, outscored Miami 28-9 the final eight minutes of the third quarter to make things interesting. Then Curry, who finished with 29 points, hit a 3-pointer with 11:33 remaining to give the Warriors their first lead at 85-84.
It set the tone for a fourth quarter that may have occurred four days too soon. The Heat and Warriors put on a show worthy of what is expected Sunday in New Orleans when the Eastern Conference All-Stars meet the West.
Down four, the Warriors scored five straight points to take a 105-104 lead on Iguodala’s 3-pointer over Heat forward Shane Battier. James responded with a 3-pointer to put the Heat back ahead. That was followed by Curry tying it on a jumpshot.
After James made one of two free throws, Curry appeared to put Golden State ahead for good when he converted a 3-point play with 14.6 seconds left. The home crowd began chants of “MVP” after the basket.
All it did was set the stage was the league’s two-time defending most valuable player. The officials screamed at Spoelstra asking if he wanted a timeout.
Instead, he left the game in James’ hand.
“If I had realized he was going to work that thing all the way down to the end of the clock, I would have run out there and screamed timeout,” Spoelstra said. “I tried to design something but once he started to wind it up, I decided I better not break his rhythm and let a great player make a great play.”
It was more like Spoelstra had no choice. James had his mind made up once the ball was inbounded.
“[Spoelstra] would have had to run to halfcourt to get that timeout,” James said. “He told us to go. They denied me the ball, but (Mario Chalmers) is the pressure release. Then I was able to get it back and I made a tough shot.”
James had the ball the entire possession, making his move at the five-second mark. He went left, stepped back and lofted the shot. He watched it fall, and then posed for the crowd.
“When you think about it and look at the play, it was great defense with a great contest,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “At the end of the day, we witnessed greatness, a special player and an all-time great who made a big-time shot.”