CLEVELAND — Other than a scoreboard condensation problem that delayed the opening tip for almost 40 minutes, a fan running onto the floor during the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers setting a franchise record for largest blown lead, the Miami Heat notching its 24th straight win and LeBron James once again getting the last laugh, not much happened Wednesday night at sold-out Quicken Loans Arena.
In one of the craziest nights in the 43-year history of the Cleveland franchise, James and the Heat seemingly rose from the dead to down the stunned Cavs 98-95 in front of 20,562 screaming fans — some of them in support of James, some in disdain for him.
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“I knew there was a lot of time, so we never panicked,” said James, who had 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half while adding 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season and 36th of his 10-year career. “We were down 27 with 18 minutes left. That’s a lifetime in basketball.”
Cleveland led 67-40 when Tyler Zeller converted a three-point play with 7:44 remaining in the third period. Then the scoreboard, which had been lowered to the ground prior to tipoff to fix a condensation problem in one of the canisters used to generate fog for pregame introductions, collapsed in a more figurative sense.
Miami went on a ridiculous 48-14 run over the next 14 minutes to go up 88-81, then survived down the stretch to improve to an NBA-best 53-14 and pull within nine victories of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ all-time record of 33 straight wins.
“The streak wasn’t on my mind, but us getting blown out was,” James said. “I was going to be the only guy to take an ‘L’ on the reunion tour (after Chris Bosh won in Toronto and Ray Allen won in Boston).”
Making a crazy night crazier, a young adult male ran on the floor with 8:21 left in the game and was quickly escorted out by security guards. He was wearing a shirt with the words, “We Miss You. 2014 Come Back,” in reference to the summer when James can opt out of his contract with the Heat.
“He ran out there like he had a few too many beers,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “I saw him coming. Hopefully, he’s OK.”
The Cavs, who were without three starters in Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters, fell to 22-46 while setting a franchise record for largest blown lead in a defeat.
That mark had already been set once this season, when Cleveland wasted a 26-point lead at Phoenix on Nov. 9, with a 22-point blown lead against New York on March 4 now relegated to mere honorable mention status.
“This one hurts really, really, really bad, just for the fact we played the game the right way for a long time,” said Cavs guard Daniel Gibson, whose 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer temporarily stopped the bleeding and put Cleveland up nine.
Despite their epic collapse, the Cavs had a chance to win, but Wayne Ellington missed a long jumper and the ball went out of bounds to Miami with 5.2 seconds left. The play was reviewed, but the call was upheld.
James made two free throws with 4.7 seconds left to put Miami up 98-95, with the Cavs, who didn’t stop play on their previous possession, taking a timeout.
When play resumed, C.J. Miles took an inbounds pass from Shaun Livingston and got off a long 3-pointer over Shane Battier that drew back iron before falling harmlessly to the floor.
As a result, Miami set a franchise record with its rally from a 21-point halftime deficit.
“It was a good, quality win at the end of a five-game road trip,” said James, who improved to 9-1 against the Cavs.
Ellington led Cleveland with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Tristan Thompson had 18 points and eight boards. Livingston had 14 points and six assists and Zeller had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Mario Chalmers backed James with 17 points for the Heat, which made 10 3-pointers in the second half.
“It’s tough to swallow,” the Cavs’ Thompson said. “We competed tonight and our effort was there, but we had mental lapses in the third quarter. They’re a championship ball team and you can’t afford for that to happen.”
Just as the teams were walking onto the floor for the opening tip — after the national anthem and pregame introductions — something was found to be dripping from the overhead scoreboard.
With mascot Moondog walking around with an umbrella — he wore a bulletproof vest when James first returned to The Q on Dec. 2, 2010 — the scoreboard was lowered to the ground and players from both teams returned to the locker room.
Jokes immediately started flying about the Cavs leaking oil, springing a leak or being unable to take the Heat, but they utilized a much different slogan associated with the scoreboard — “What’s The Diff?” — and came out on a mission when the 7:07 p.m. scheduled game finally started at 7:45.
With James on the bench to start the second quarter, the Heat went on a 7-0 run to pull within 32-31 with 9:15 to go in the first half, but the Cavs closed with a 23-3 spurt to go up 55-34 at intermission. Included was a 19-0 run over a five-minute span in which Miami did nothing right.
All that changed in a hurry once the Cavs went up 27 in the third period, with James scoring eight unanswered points in the blink of an eye to tie the game at 77, then adding a 3-pointer to put the Heat up 80-79.
“We were making shots and they weren’t,” Scott said of his team taking the big lead. “The third quarter, that three-minute mark down, they were making shots and we weren’t.”
It ended up being such a fun night for James that as the fan who stormed the floor was about to be led off, the small forward went over and affectionately tapped him on the head.
“There are metal detectors here, so we were OK,” James said. “I embraced it.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.