On a night that saw David Lee and the Golden State Warriors edge out the Denver Nuggets in a justifiably close contest, the Heat nearly suffered a loss at the hands of a Big Three-less San Antonio Spurs.
It was a game that had the makings of a blowout for South Beach's finest. The Spurs were without six of their best players—four of which were sent home on Gregg Popovich's own accord—and surely didn't stand a chance against the defending champion Heat.
Or so we thought.
San Antonio fought from start to finish, ultimately forcing James to step up and play the part of an understated hero.
Stat Line: 23 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals on 56.3 percent shooting.
This wasn't what you would call a pretty game for Miami by any means.
After being outscored 27-22 in the first quarter, the Heat managed to take a three-point lead into halftime. The Spurs then came out firing in the third, outscoring Miami by six, taking a three-point lead of their own into the fourth.
San Antonio didn't slow down in the final period either. The Spurs led by as much as seven with less than five minutes to go.
Which is when LeBron took over.
He hit a tough layup to bring the Heat within five, then buried a fall away in traffic to bring them back within three. After a defensive stop and a Dwyane Wade runner, Miami was finally within a point of the Spurs' backups.
Yet another defensive stop led James to attack the paint. He nearly lost the ball in traffic before finding a wide open Ray Allen, who hit a three-pointer to put the Heat up for good.
But James wasn't done. He poked the ball away from Gary Neal almost immediately after the in-bounds, forcing San Antonio to foul and the game was Miami's from there.
By most accounts, this was an average game for James. Sure, he led all scorers with 23 points, and yes, he came within three assists and one rebound of a triple-double, but that's what we have come to expect from him.
What really mattered about his performance was his ability to carry the Heat toward a victory, despite a lackluster performance by Miami as a whole.
This should have been a game where James and company were able to rest by the fourth quarter, a game in which they won rather easily. But it wasn't.
The Heat were able to connect on 48.8 percent of their shots, but they allowed a team that was missing Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Tony Parker, among others, to score 100 points on them—on their own turf.
It should have never come down to an Allen three-pointer in the waning seconds of the game; Miami never should have trailed for as long as they did. And after falling behind by seven in the latter half of the fourth quarter, the Heat seemed destined for disaster.
Until we remembered why James won his third MVP award only last season.
Without his four straight points to bring his team back within striking distance, this victory doesn't happen. Without his dribble penetration, Allen isn't open. Without his superior court vision, Allen never even gets a look at his game-winning shot.
And without James' defensive aggression, maybe the Spurs remain composed enough to hit a clutch shot of their own.
Simply put, without him, the Heat don't win this game; they don't prevail over an inferior opponent.
But Miami isn't currently nursing the wounds that come with an inexcusable letdown, because they weren't without James. Unlike almost half of San Antonio's team, he was in the building.
And he wasn't going to leave it knowing that the Heat lost.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 30, 2012.
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