LeBron James took his time walking off of the Air Canada Centre court on Sunday afternoon.
Before he began the walk to the locker room where reporters and cameramen were waiting to talk about the Miami Heat’s winning streak that he had just helped push to 22 with a 108-91 victory over the Toronto Raptors, he wanted to show the crowd some love.
Despite the hurt feelings of Toronto fans after Chris Bosh left the city to team up with James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, there were a lot of No. 6 jerseys in the arena.
With people packing the sides of the stands leading into the tunnel, James stopped to shake hands and slap fives before picking up a towel and shooting it into the crowd, jump-shot style. The fans loved it. Watching the way he orchestrated everything on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t hard to see why.
Through the first two quarters, the Raptors were able to hang around. In the third, they threatened to compete with the Heat and make them work to keep their 21-game winning streak going. In the fourth, the Heat decided to be the Heat and rolled to another easy win.
With 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, James was two assists shy of a triple-double. These are the sorts of things that barely get mentioned because he is playing at a level that high this season.
“He’s just a threat everywhere,” Landry Fields said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s scoring, he’s still a threat. He’s so big and so tall he sees over the defence and he’s good about making that pass.”
It wasn’t so much that the Heat won in Toronto on Sunday afternoon. It was the way they won that was scary. Breezing through the first half holding a 12-point lead, Miami allowed the Raptors to outscore them 30-21 in the third quarter and go into the fourth trailing by just three.
Once Toronto tied the game at 77 on a pair of free throws from Rudy Gay with 11 minutes remaining, the Heat decided to flip the switch and immediately reeled off a 12-0 run. The run happened while LeBron James was on the bench.
“We just dug in and decided to try to do it a little bit tougher, a little bit harder,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They missed some, they missed some open ones too. Sometimes you have to be lucky. But our disposition changed, a little bit more resolve.”
In the fourth quarter, it wasn’t the big three who did the heavy lifting. It was 17-year vet Ray Allen. Allen drilled four three-pointers in an eight minute span and racked up 16 points in the quarter. The Raptors as a team were held to 18 points.
“At one point we held ‘em to 1-for-[14 field goals],” Spoelstra said. “As it went on it seemed to get a little bit stronger and those threes by Ray, that’s why we came up with a term, so many years when he was with Boston — ‘oh’. Those are what we feared for so many years because he can turn a game just around like that, three or four threes in a row, and that’s what he’s able to do.”
After shooting 42 per cent for the game, Toronto managed to connect on just 24 per cent of their attempts in the final frame. With a reserve lineup on the court for the extended run in the fourth, the experienced and savvy Heat players executed their game plan with ease.
While the Heat’s latest accomplishment is certainly a special one, Amir Johnson had little interest in discussing it. The unfailingly polite big man –with an 18-point, 18-rebound performance in the loss — wanted to talk about anything but Miami and the confidence they’ve shown through their run.
“I don’t really care about their streak," Johnson said. “We pretty much worry about ourselves. We really wanted to get that win.”
Beating the Heat isn’t easy. Trying to do it while also playing rookies and giving reserves minutes makes it significantly more difficult.
The Toronto Raptors were able to string together a passable first half and a solid third quarter. The fourth was just a reminder of how good the Heat are, and how sweet it is to play with players that make the game easier.
High school phenom Andrew Wiggins on hand at the ACC
One of the people on hand to watch the Heat take on the Raptors Sunday afternoon was Canadian high school basketball phenom Andrew Wiggins. Recently awarded the Naismith Trophy as the best high school player in the United States — and also the planet — Wiggins watched the game and then got a hello from James and Allen as the two left their locker room and began to walk toward the team bus.
Allen emerged first and greeted the 18-year-old by telling him they had just been talking about him in the Heat locker room. He also told him that he would be following his career.
If that wasn’t a surreal moment for a teenager that hasn’t even graduated from high school yet, James soon followed and, after posing for more photos with fans lingering, asked Wiggins how he was doing.
Consider this: Allen is playing in his 17th NBA season. Wiggins turned 18 on February 23.
Another huge effort from Johnson
One game after pulling down a career-high 21 rebounds, Johnson was at it again against the Heat. Playing nearly 37 minutes, Johnson scored 18 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, eight of them on offence. Johnson also dished three assists and had a steal on the afternoon.
At this point, his teammates aren’t surprised by the numbers he puts up or the effort he puts in. After Johnson caught a shot to the face and suffered a bloody nose that eventually forced him to the bench, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey had only praise for the big man after the game.
“He is our guy inside,” he said. “Amir gets a bloody nose and wants to stay in the game. We have come to expect that from Amir.”