In the spirit of March Madness, David nearly toppled Goliath.
In a game that featured a little bit of everything, the basketball universe righted itself in the end as the champion Miami Heat, now winners of 24 straight, held off a late rally by the Cleveland Cavaliers to win, 98-95.
The start of the game was delayed 35 minutes after it was discovered that CO2 canisters used in pregame pyrotechnics attached to the scoreboard were leaking fluid onto the court.
The delay appeared to have Miami in a daze. The Cavaliers looked inspired, challenging Miami all over the court and daring them to match their intensity.
With Cleveland missing their top three scorers, including All-Star Kyrie Irving, this was supposed to be no contest for LeBron James and Co.
Instead, Cleveland went up 32-24 on a buzzer-beating baseline jumper from Marreese Speights to end the first quarter.
Miami cut the lead to one, 32-31, but a 23-3 Cavaliers run blew the game open and sent the Heat to the locker room with their collective tail between their legs.
The Heat went the final 6:44 of the half without a field goal.
Cleveland's activity was the difference. They had six steals to the Heat's two and seven more offensive rebounds.
Less than five minutes into the third quarter, Cleveland was up 67-40 and the crowd was ravenous.
Would this be a letdown after the emotional win in Boston?
Was the streak really going to end in Cleveland?
What happened over the next 13:17 of game time almost defies logic. The Heat outscored Cleveland 46-12 in little more than a quarter's worth of play.
James' pull-up scissor-kick three-pointer tied the game at 77 and sparked his now customary sit-down motion to the crowd as Cleveland called timeout.
Three three-pointers each by Shane Battier, Ray Allen and James highlighted what would peak as a 55-19 run that turned a 67-40 deficit into a 95-86 lead with just more than three minutes remaining.
After the score became 96-88, Cleveland scored the next seven to cut the lead to one before a controversial out-of-bounds call on a loose-ball rebound with just 5.2 seconds left awarded the ball to Miami.
James was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and knocked down both free throws to put Miami back up by three.
A desperation three by C.J. Miles was just off and the Heat survived to push their win streak to 24 games.
Heat sideline reporter Jason Jackson caught James right after the buzzer sounded.
"We had to dig deep for this one...we already know, like I said this morning, every team is gonna give us a good shot, no matter their record, no matter who's on the floor, they're gonna give their best. We should enjoy that. We should embrace that, you know, because it puts up our level of intensity as well so...it's good for us to dig down once again and get another road win."
After failing to record a triple-double last season until the Game 5 clincher against Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals, LeBron notched his fourth this season with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Turnovers early in the fourth quarter killed Cleveland and sparked Miami as six Cavalier miscues—five on Miami steals—ignited the Heat fast break.
Wayne Ellington, who hit a career-high seven threes against Miami as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 11, continued his strong play against the Heat, scoring 20 points with seven rebounds.
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Fan in Cleveland runs on the court with "We miss you, Come Back 2014" shirt on. LeBron pats him on the head. http://t.co/OMlF3PmwUp3/21/2013, 1:45:46 AM
Second-year big man Tristan Thompson had 10 of Cleveland's first 20 points, but finished the game with just 18 points and eight rebounds.
With 8:21 to go in the game, a fan ran onto the court, seemingly to solicit James' return to Cleveland in 2014.
Miami lost the rebounding battle, 42-34, but Cleveland just had no answer for James and the Heat's 10 second-half three-pointers.
Facing deficits of 17 and 27 points these last two games, the Heat have been able to right the ship.
But at what point are the other teams' best shots going to be good enough?
The way this streak is going, we may not find out for a while.
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