April 22, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half against the Houston Rockets at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
LeBron James led a battered Miami Heat team that was missing three of its five starters, scoring 32 points and leading every significant run, including the final 20-8 run in the fourth quarter that led the Miami Heat to a 97-88 win over the Houston Rockets in Miami Sunday.
This season, it seems, more than any other, the NBA has been a war of roster attrition, with teams frequently sitting their stars due to fatigue, injury and the like. Though the Miami Heat were such a team, competing without All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as long as they have LeBron James, it will likely be enough. Sunday against the Houston Rockets, whose participation in the playoffs hung in the balance, James scored 32 points, including 11 in the last seven minutes, leading the Heat past the Rockets 97-88 in Miami.
The Rockets were playing without two of their top players as well, as Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin were both shut down for the season, leaving their tenuous playoff hopes on the shoulders of players like rookie Chandler Parsons. Parsons, who has had a fine rookie season and has been a standout at times in the first quarter of games, was solid again in the opening quarter, scoring seven points on perfect 3-3 shooting, leading the team to an early 13-point lead.
The Heat fought back to take a one-point lead into halftime, but then Parsons started the second half by letting the Heat have it again, this time blending a series of three-point shots with hustle follow-up scores in transition and a baseline drive and score to compile 12 points in the third quarter to once again provide the Rockets with a nine point lead.
As they did all game long, the Heat closed out the quarter better than the Rockets, this time whittling the lead down to three entering the fourth quarter. In that quarter the Heat played as perfect as they had all game long, taking care of the basketball, scoring the ball, out-rebounding Houston and simply letting their MVP shine.
The Heat also played without de facto point guard Mario Chalmers, meaning that every time the Heat would turn to go up the court, they mostly got the ball to James, who led the team with five assists. It also meant a lot of dribble-drive creation off the pick and roll and, while the Heat were not good at converting spot-up opportunities off such activity, shooting 7-29 on such plays according to MySynergySports.com, between Norris Cole (16 points, six in the fourth), Mike Miller (11 points, sixth in the fourth) and James Jones (seven points, four in the fourth) they did just enough to make a push down the stretch.
But the winning time, as it was all game long, was about LeBron. Playing at a speed greater than everybody else for the entirety of his nearly 36 minutes on the court, James saved the best for last. It began with over seven minutes to go and the Heat down four points, 77-73. It ended with 33 seconds left in the game with the Heat up 11, having completed a 20-8 run that sealed the game.
The key mark of the game was with three minutes left and the game tied at 83. James and Parsons had just traded baskets, for Parsons completing a season-high 23 point effort, when LeBron isolated and scored a three-pointer over Parsons' outstretched hand. After a Houston turnover, the Heat got the ball to a streaking LeBron, who came down and found Miller alone in the corner. Miller knocked down the three-pointer and the Heat were up by six points.
Still up six with just over a minute left, James came down with the ball and threw it to Miller, who immediately showed the hand-off back to James. LeBron sprinted down, took the gift from Miller, paused for a split second near the sideline, then dashed down the baseline, past Parsons and in for a looked-so-easy slam, effectively breaking the Rockets and ending their season.
James finished with the game-high 32 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. The Heat outrebounded the Rockets significantly, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds, helping to overcome the 46-percent to 41-percent disparity in field goal shooting. The Heat did not turn the ball over in the last quarter while the Rockets turned it over four times, giving the Heat a +5 turnover margin for the game.
For all of Sunday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.