OAKLAND — The roar, and then the hush, rippled through the corridor, back into the cavernous visiting locker room. Dwyane Wade was sitting back here because, right before this game against the Golden State Warriors, his foot had oddly become numb.
But no part of him was numb now.
He needed to know.
"So I'm sitting there, and it's like, 'Haaaa!'" Wade said. "And then it was like, 'Hoooo!'
"So I'm sitting here and I'm looking at this clock, because this clock is right, but the game clock is like 10 seconds off. So I'm looking at this clock, and the clock stopped at 0.1. And I heard 'Hoooo!' I was like 'Oh s--t!' So we had to go to the TV and wait, and I was like, 'Oh, I know what's coming!' And I heard somebody go through the hallway, and say, 'Goddamn it!' He was cussing, so I knew. 'Goddamn it, LeBron!'"
Those words said it all for the Warriors on Wednesday night.
As Andre Iguodala, defiant defender, would say after the 111-110 defeat, "There's nothing I would change. He just made a tough shot."
But, for James and the rest of the Heat, so few words would not suffice. This was a shot to savor, a shot that sent them into the All-Star break on a serious sugar high, with another sweet road win against a strong Western Conference squad.
This was a shot by someone who has never made one like this from this range in this circumstance since joining Miami, or at least none that he or his teammates could remember.
This was a shot—this step-back 27-footer just before the buzzer—that really shouldn't have happened; not if the Heat had held a large lead, and not if Erik Spoelstra had stuck with his plan.
With Wade missing, but James storming toward a triple-double and Michael Beasley making his first major contribution in weeks, Miami took an 11-point lead at the half, expanding it to 21 in the third quarter.
But then Harrison Barnes and Stephen Curry started scorching, the Heat's two-point-guard lineup backfired, and James appeared to start angling for assists (to complete the triple-double) rather than staying aggressive.
Curry's step-back three-pointer, and driving layup, gave the Warriors an 87-86 lead.
Miami surged back ahead by nine, only for the Warriors to rally back within one. From there, the playmaking and shot-making on both sides was sublime.
"Furious ending," Spoelstra said.
Mario Chalmers with a pull-up three. Iguodala with a tough 18-foot turnaround over Battier. James, so spent that Spoelstra burned a timeout, with a 25-foot three. And, after James missed the second of two free throws, Curry with a double-crossover to free himself of Chalmers, for a running bank plus a foul and free throw.
There were 14.6 seconds left.
Miami trailed 110-108.
"Mark (Lindsay), the official, was screaming at me, 'Do you want a timeout?! Do you want a timeout?!'" Spoelstra said. "So I turned my back because I didn't want the other bench to know we really just wanted to advance it to LeBron. We've done it before and see if he can shake free for something easy before they can get their defense set."
This created some confusion.
For the Heat.
"I was on the other side," Chris Bosh said. "I was trying to figure out what play we were running. I was like, 'What are we doing? Are we calling a timeout?' Nobody looked at me. I was like, 'Spo!' And then when nobody looked at me, I was like, OK. All right. Then we took it out. What's the play? Oh, (LeBron) ran and got it. OK, that's the play."
Or something resembling one.
"Um, that was kind of a weird play," Battier said. "We asked (Spoelstra about the timeout), and he said yes initially. And I turned back around, and he went, 'no, no, no, go!' He knows how I feel. I'm like, hell, go. I hate the timeout at the end of the game. I hate letting the defense get set. You get to put the ball in No. 6's hands."
So, now, let's put the story in his mouth.
For instance, Spoelstra said if he'd known James planned to drain the clock, he would have chased down an official, screaming to stop it.
"He would have had to run to half court to get that timeout," James said, smiling. "You know, he told us to go. And they denied me the ball, Rio was the pressure release, and I was able to get it back and made a tough shot."
It was a shot without a safety net, just like the one Bosh made in Portland earlier this season, with James watching in a suit.
Let it fly, then live or die.
"I was going for the win the whole time," James said. "I just wanted to make sure I made it with little to no time left, or I made it with no time left.... It felt great. I was able to stand up and watch it go through. I was fading a little bit, but I was able to follow through. I watched the flight of the ball, and it looked good the whole time."
After that, he didn't need to go looking for love.
It came to him.
With the crowd in shock, James shimmied or slapped hands with anyone and everyone on the Heat side, even sharing a tomahawk chop with emergency starter—and Florida State alum—Toney Douglas. There were still 0.2 seconds on the clock, but before those harmlessly expired, Shane Battier and Ray Allen rubbed his head, and Bosh bounced him around, just as James did to him in Portland.
"I was trying to repay the favor," Bosh said. "They smashed me."
Then, after his postgame on-court interview, James lingered longer than he usually does, doing another dance with Norris Cole before finally leaving through the tunnel, to respectful boos.
Where did it rank?
"It's up there, man," James said. "It's up there. I mean, just the circumstances of the game, and to be able to come through for my teammates. I always want to come through for them.
"Obviously, I'm not going to be successful all the time, but to be able to deliver for them tonight, man, it meant everything. Send those guys off into the All-Star break on the right note."
That break comes with the Heat holding a 37-14 record, a half-game better than they entered it last season. It comes with James coming off back-to-back games, both without Wade, in which he played 83 minutes and recorded 73 points, 22 rebounds, 12 assists and seven steals.
It comes with the Heat trailing the Pacers by just 2.5 games in the East, inspired and invigorated by what their leader can accomplish, even against some odds.
After all, as the buzz-killing Battier reminded, "If you play by the book, that's not the best play. The best play is to get something in the paint."
The stats, in that situation, "work against you."
They didn't Wednesday.
Not with something stronger working.
"He just wanted to let us know that there is a God," Battier said. "That's what that was. There is proof in existence that God exists."
Battier pointed across the room, with James still sitting at his stall, in recovery and reflection.
"That guy right there is not by mistake, not by some cosmic mistake, that is a part of a grand design somewhere," Battier said. "That's my small religious theory for the evening. Hallelujah!"
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