Sans LeBron, the Heat Bosh the Blazers
The way things had been going all season, it figured that the Trail Blazers would beat the Heat on a lob pass to LaMarcus Aldridge at the buzzer.
Trailing 108-107 with .5 of a second left on the clock Saturday night at the Moda Center, the Blazers got "exactly what we wanted," said coach Terry Stotts of their bid for another dramatic victory.
Nicolas Batum's inbound lob pass to Aldridge was on the mark, and all the All-Star power forward had to do was convert a close-range turnaround jumper to set off a raucous celebration upon beating the two-time NBA champions.
But Aldridge's four-foot shot caught nothing but air, and it was the Heat players who did the boogy-woogy at game's end. They mobbed Chris Bosh, whose 3-pointer had taken the wind out of the sellout crowd of 20,071 and punctured a little hole into Portland's close game/late game invincibility this season.
The Blazers (24-6) went in with a 14-1 record in games decided by 10 points or fewer. Even better, they were 14-0 in games in which they led at halftime and 19-0 when they had taken a lead into the fourth quarter.
All three categories took a hit Saturday night. The Blazers led 62-58 at the half and 88-83 after three quarters, and had several chances down the stretch to wrap up a triumph against an opponent they might see again in June.
"We've been tops in the league in the last four minutes of close games," said Portland's Wesley Matthews, who scored 18 of his team-high 23 points in the first half. "It sucks that we controlled everything that happened. We can't blame anyone but ourselves. It'll be tough to sleep tonight."
What really hurt was that the Heat (23-7) got it done without the services of LeBron James, who injured a groin in Friday night's 108-103 overtime loss at Sacramento. James warmed up before Saturday's game, then declared himself out for the first time this season and watched the game from the Miami bench in street clothes.
After Aldridge's miss, the Heat made whoopee on the Moda hardcourt as if they'd wrapped up a third straight title. And nobody celebrated harder afterward than James, who bumped Bosh and exchanged hand slaps and other fraternity tricks with the "man of the night," as Miami coach Erik Spoelstra called him.
Bosh was spectacular in James' absence, going for a season-high 37 points along with 10 rebounds. He made his first five shots from the field and finished 15 for 26, including 3 for 3 from 3-point range despite entering with .313 accuracy from beyond the arc this season.
Miami's 6-10 center "made his jump shots, especially early," Stotts said. "I didn't count on him going 3 for 3 on 3's. But he played a terrific game, and they needed him to."
"He had a great game," Portland's Damian Lillard said. "He shot the ball well. Came out hot, cooled off and got hot again at the end. He's an All-Star, and with LeBron out, I expected him to try to bring that type of game."
Bosh's game-winner came after Batum had sank a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds left to give Portland a 107-105 lead. After a timeout, the Heat inbounded to Dwyane Wade, who drove hard to the basket and drew the attention of nearly every Blazer defender.
Wade kicked the ball out to Bosh, spotted up at the 3-point line. Lillard and Mo Williams ran in desperation at Bosh, but he launched a rainbow shot that caught nothing but net.
"He was three or four feet behind the line," Stotts said. "We had a couple guys running at him. It was a great shot."
"We were focused on Wade on the ball," Portland center Robin Lopez said, "and we got blindsided."
Aldridge was defending Bosh on the play but doubled down on Wade when he drove the middle.
"It was a ball screen, and both (Aldridge and Lillard) went with Wade," Aldridge said. "We have to be better (defensively), but Bosh made a really tough shot."
Aldridge had a decent outing, with 22 points and seven rebounds. But he missed the shot he wanted most at the end on a play that went perfectly except the final result.
"It worked," Aldridge said. The Heat "were trying to front me on the block. Nic threw it to a spot, I went and got it and shot.
"It was a good look. it was tough to judge how I should shoot it, falling backwards. If I could go back in time, I might try to go glass. I was happy with the pass. Got to make it next time."
The Blazers lost on a night in which they shot superbly -- .506 from the field, .423 from 3-point range, .857 from the foul line. But 19 turnovers, and shaky defense at times, especially late, cost them.
"I was disappointed we put ourselves in that position at the end of the game where it had to come to a couple of plays," Stotts said. "Give Miami credit. We knew (the Heat) had a lot of good players, even with James out, but we didn't defend as well as we needed to throughout the game. We did in parts, but not as often as we needed to.
"We've been in a lot of close games. We've won a lot of close games. We had an opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it."
Lopez lamented the giveaways.
"Our mistakes," he said. "They weren't really forced turnovers. They were dumb turnovers."
The Blazers felt they lost the game more than Miami won it.
"It was one we gave away," Matthews said. "We had it. We had control of it the whole game. But we didn't get it done. We handed them that game."
"We let one go," Lillard said. "We had a decision to make if we wanted to start to play better defense and try to take over the game, but we didn't do that."
But Lillard credited the Heat with improved second-half defense that limited the Blazers to 45 points after intermission.
"They denied passes, they shot passing lanes," Lillard said. "We knew that's what they do. Because of how successful we were in the first half, we thought the same things would be there (the second half), and they did a good job of taking it away."
And Matthews said the Blazers shouldn't have been counting on beating a Miami team even without James.
"They still have players who can carry a team," Matthews said. "You can't put too much on a star, or marquee guy not playing. You can't replace LeBron, but they're still a tough team."
"It's not really about LeBron," Aldridge said. "It's about us winning the game. If we take care of business the last minute and a half, then that's our game. But we had some breakdowns."
Matthews made 9 of 14 shots from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Lillard scored 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 4 of 7 on 3-point attempts. But Lillard had only one point and Matthews five in the second half.
Aldridge increased his career scoring total to 9,999 points. Against New Orleans on Monday night, he'll join Clyde Drexler (18,040), Terry Porter (11,330), Cliff Robinson (10,405), Jerome Kersey (10,067) and Jim Paxson (10,003) in the Blazers' 10,000-point club.
Batum finished with 11 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three blocked shots. He went 5 for 5 at the foul line over the final 32 seconds.
Portland reserve Joel Freeland had five points and a career-high 12 rebounds in only 15 minutes. Williams dished out a season-high nine assists in 26 minutes.
Lopez made his first six shots from the field and finished with 17 points on 7-for-10 gunnery.
The Heat had won 19 straight against Western Conference opponents before losing at Sacramento Friday night. Portland was 11-0 this season against Eastern Conference foes until Saturday night.
Portland has scored at least 100 points in 17 straight games, the first team to do it since Toronto went on a 20-game streak in 2010. The Blazers have scored 105 or more points in 15 straight games, the longest such streak since Denver did it in 16 games in a row in 2008.
The Heat's loss at Sacramento -- they led by 17 points in the first quarter and were ahead for most of regulation -- left them glad for the challenge of playing the team with the league's best record tonight.
"That's the beauty of the NBA," Miami coach Spoelstra said pregame. "You have such a bad taste in your mouth after a game like that. It was tough for all of us to sleep. All you want to do is get back out there and compete again. And then to have a game like this -- that's what our guys cherish. Our guys like the big-game feel in tough arenas. (The Moda Center) is a great crowd, great atmosphere on a Saturday night -- there's nothing else we'd rather be doing."
Portland lost for the first time this season when shooting better than 50 percent. Miami shot .517.