The Miami Heat (5-1) played their first game without superstar Dwyane Wade this season, but they proved a dynamic duo is just as good as a Big Three with a hard-fought 95-89 victory on the road over the Atlanta Hawks (2-2)
This was the first win of the year on the road for a Heat team that relied mostly on Chris Bosh and LeBron James while also getting valuable contributions off the bench from Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
The Hawks went toe-to-toe against the defending NBA champions for the first three quarters. In fact, they were trailing by just one point as they entered the final period.
However, this time, there was no miraculous comeback, as Atlanta's offense took an 87-85 lead with 3:26 to go, but couldn't make the key baskets (or free throws) down the stretch.
The Heat mounted a 10-2 run in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as they took a commanding lead, but they saw it dwindle until LeBron stepped up to seal the game in the waning seconds.
This was a new development for the Hawks, a team that had excelled in the clutch this season.
Atlanta had outscored the opposition by an average of 27-19 in the fourth quarter during its first three games.
However, Miami prevailed on this night with its trademark stifling defense, 23-18, in the final 12 minutes.
Let's take a look at who excelled and who disappointed in this clash between the two strongest teams in the Southeast division.
It was an adequate game for Chalmers, who made an important three-pointer with less than five minutes to go in the game to give the Heat a cushion.
Chalmers had 12 points and three assists in the game, but could have done better defensively, so his grade goes down a bit because of that.
Jeff Teague clearly surpassed him with his 20 points and 11 assists, as he had the kind of command of the Hawks' offense that Chalmers didn't have.
Then again, the concept of a true point guard is almost irrelevant in Miami, with LeBron James handling the ball most of the time.
Four points and six rebounds in 31 minutes for Wade's replacement tonight. Not nearly enough to offset D-Wade's absence.
Tonight, Mike Miller reminded us why the Miami Heat were so wise to target Ray Allen during the offseason. His NBA Finals heroics aside, Miller won't perform at a high level every night at this stage of his career.
He certainly hasn't been playing at Allen's level this season.
Miller looked hesitant during the entire game and didn't score a single point during the first half, so his performance left a lot to be desired.
James showed why he is the MVP with 21 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and an overall game that left little doubt about who would step up in Wade's absence for Miami.
LeBron's defining moment happened when he nailed the jumper that made it 93-89 with 13 seconds remaining, putting the contest out of reach.
James used his best physical attributes to bowl over DeShawn Stevenson and shoot a difficult shot with ease, and his subsequent body language seemed to ask, "Who is clutch now?" as he went towards the bench.
Battier's box score was unimpressive: two points, 1-of-4 shooting, no rebounds, no assists, a steal and a block.
However, Battier is a player that can't be judged by what the box score says of him because his hustle and intelligent play don't always show up on a piece of paper. His defensive effort wasn't stellar, but it was stifling enough to earn a decent grade despite his poor offensive output.
The real story here is that Battier only played a hair over 20 minutes, receding into the background rather than reprising the key role he played in the NBA Finals (and throughout the 2012 postseason).
Head coach Erik Spoelstra showed off his depth and gave big minutes to Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis off the bench.
Battier had the luxury of getting some rest after racking up a relatively quick four fouls.
No wonder the NBA removed "Center" from the All-Star ballot.
Chris Bosh had an outstanding game, playing out of position but still being able to win his personal battle against an All-Star center in Al Horford.
Bosh had 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting as he dominated the paint on offense and also expanded his repertoire to his usual array of jump shots.
The Heat don't need Joel Anthony or Dexter Pittman when Bosh plays like this because his versatility is a true headache for opponents that see their defenses stretched out.
Bosh's dominance also created plenty of opportunities for a Heat team that made seven of its 22 threes in the game.
Allen keeps proving that the defending champs got even better with his arrival, as he chipped in with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
Allen had a really good first half with 11 points and forced the Hawks to be on high alert on defense, as he sank three of his five attempts from long distance.
The 37-year-old shooting guard certainly won the battle of scorers against the Hawks' sixth man.
Lou Williams came up small with just two points without making a single shot, making Allen look even better by comparison.
Rashard Lewis was one of the bright spots in the rest of the Heat's rotation.
Lewis got hot in the third quarter and scored all seven of his points, helping Miami establish itself with the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Udonis Haslem couldn't get himself going offensively, but still contributed with his warrior mentality, collecting 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Norris Cole was passable with six points on 3-of-7 shooting.
James Jones, Josh Harrellson, Joel Anthony and Terrel Harris did not play a single minute, as Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra stuck to a nine-man rotation.