LeBron James returned to Cleveland on Wednesday, and that was just a small part of a crazy night in the NBA. The Heat pulled off an incredible comeback against the Cavaliers to push their winning streak to 24 games, Marc Gasol helped the Grizzlies escape with an overtime victory against Kevin Durant and the Thunder, and playoff hopefuls around the league bolstered their resumes. Here's a quick look at all of the action from around the association.
Heat 98, Cavaliers 95
LeBron James and the Miami Heat did it again, extending their improbable winning streak to 24 games, but this time it took something close to miracle to knock off a wounded Cavaliers team Wednesday night. LeBron and the Heat have built up the second-longest winning streak in NBA history on a foundation of truly superior play, but on Wednesday in Cleveland they coasted for three quarters and then soaked up every bit of clutch, luck and timeliness they could possibly conjure up to escape with a 98-95 victory.
Everything about the game was just .... weird. The contest was delayed due to a leak in the arena roof that caused water to trickle down to the Jumbotron and drip on the court. A crazy fan ran onto the court during the action wearing a shirt that said "We Miss You, 2014 Come Back" (and thankfully nobody was hurt). And, of course, LeBron was back in Cleveland -- the city he spurned for a chance at a title with the Heat.
Miami fell behind by 21 points in the first half to a team playing without Kyrie Irving or Dion Waiters. In the opening 24 minutes, LeBron scored just six points and turned the ball over four times. By the early part of the third quarter, Cleveland had pushed its lead to 27 points. Then Miami flipped the switch and once again beat the odds to keep its incredible streak alive. This time the odds were mind-boggling:
Crazy stat from @espnstatsinfo: Record of teams down 27 after halftime over the last 15 seasons: 6 - 2013.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) March 21, 2013
The Heat ripped off a 37-10 run to tie the game at 77, and even the fan running onto the floor didn't faze LeBron and company down the stretch. LBJ finished with an amazing triple-double -- 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists -- that came almost entirely in the second half.
Conrad Kaczmarek of Cavaliers blog Fear the Sword handled the recap about as well as could be expected:
To briefly address the whole "pathetic Cleveland fan" narrative that you'll see on ESPN or wherever after this one with regards to the fan that ran on the court --- obviously he's not representative of the entire fan base. There are idiots in Cleveland. There are idiots in Miami. There are idiots everywhere. The arena security should have done a better job controlling the situation and had to have known that there was a chance something like that happened. This kid wasn't violent, but he could have been.
And if people are still wondering why Cleveland fans are upset about LeBron leaving, it's because HE DOES STUFF LIKE THAT. His team was completely dead and he was having a terrible game. And then he turned it on to finish with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He's the greatest player in the entire world and he was on our team. And then he left. And now we suck. You'd be pretty mad too.
Grizzlies 90, Thunder 89
Neither team shot better than 36 percent from the field, but the Grizzlies used their grit-and-grind style to a big win in extra time. The Grizzlies earned the head-to-head tiebreaker over OKC with the win, and Grizzly Bear Blues covered the big win well in its recap:
The win gave Memphis the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City, who now is only three games ahead of them in the standings, two in the loss column. These are the kinds of wins the Grizzlies love to manufacture. They didn't shoot the ball well, there will not be a ton of highlights, nothing of value for ESPN, but this team doesn't care one bit. They got in the mud and played through it all and secured a much-needed victory over a very high quality opponent. They would not allow a superstar to stop them. They would not allow one-sided officiating or poor shooting to stop them. They kept clawing until the final buzzer sounded, and that's what Memphis is all about. We don't quit, we don't give up, and we most certainly do not bluff.
Atlanta 98, Bucks 90
As the NBA universe was busy being dazzled by LeBron and the Heat, a game with playoff implications unfolded in Atlanta. The Milwaukee Bucks are currently the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and their best opportunity to escape that fate may have passed on Wednesday night. The rested Hawks took advantage of a weary Bucks team to earn their second win in the head-to-head series, forcing the Bucks to win the final two meetings just to have a chance at the secondary tiebreaker (conference record). It was already an uphill battle for Milwaukee, but now they may have to focus on catching the Celtics.
Jeff Teague came up one point shy of his season and career high, as he scored a game-high 27 points -- including a 12-point outburst in the third quarter to put the Hawks up 77-59. Al Horford posted a double-double with 26 points and 15 rebounds, and Josh Smith added 12 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in the win.
Nets 113, Mavericks 96
Deron Williams returned to his hometown of Dallas in a game that reopened some of the wounds from an awkward free agent summer where D-Will flirted with the idea of signing with Dallas but changed his mind and wound up on the Brooklyn Nets. Williams scored 31 points and dished out six assists, and Brook Lopez stole the show with 38 points and 11rebounds, as the Nets moved to 40-28 on the year -- the first time the Nets have won 40 games since the 2006-07 season, when they won 41.
At Mavs Moneyball, fans were frustrated by the positional talent gap at point guard on display last night:
Here's the funny thing about Deron Williams and the Mavs: he really does look like a guy worth $100 million when he's playing against Mike James and Darren Collison. Once Williams saw a few jumpers go down in the second half, you could see his confidence growing as he realized they had absolutely no chance of stopping him. Whether it was James, Collison or Mayo, none could prevent him from going wherever he wanted on the court and raising up for a clean look at the basket. This is where you miss Dahntay Jones. With Marion out, Dallas doesn't have anyone else who can play perimeter defense on the roster. Realistically, you can't expect those guys to be able to defend Deron Williams, but it's not too much to ask that an NBA PG making an NBA salary can initiate a set correctly! Check out this video from Michael Dugat of Collison trying to give Dirk the ball at the top of the key at the end of the third quarter. This is basic stuff. Chris Wright, the D-League PG on a 10-day contract, ran the Princeton offense for four seasons at Georgetown. Maybe he can throw an entry pass? The good news is that Mike James managed to get off 14 FGA's in his time on the floor.
Houston 100, Jazz 93
The Jazz are in free-fall at this point, as the loss to the Rockets on Wednesday marked Utah's second straight defeat and the seventh loss in the last 10 games. It's a terrible time for Utah to get in a funk, and now they sit 1.5 games back of the Lakers for the No. 8 seed in the West.
Gordon Hayward scored 27 points and grabbed eight boards to lead the Jazz, but James Harden and Jeremy Lin combined for 53 points on 27 shots as the Rockets earned the win and moved 1.5 games ahead of the Lakers as the No. 7 seed.
The Warriors simply cannot beat the Spurs. It has been forever since they knocked off the Spurs in San Antonio. Tim Duncan finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocks as the Spurs recorded their 29th-straight home win over Golden State.
The Warriors last won a road game in San Antonio on Feb. 14, 1997. Latrell Sprewell scored a game-high 32 points on 12-22 shooting, Chris Mullin added 18 points and Joe Smith chipped in a 20-point, 13-rebound double-double in that game, as Golden State pulled away for a 108-94 victory. Yikes.
The Celtics suffered a letdown in New Orleans, as 28 points from Paul Pierce and 20 points from Kevin Garnett were not enough to overcome a balanced attack from the Hornets that featured 21 points from Ryan Anderson, 18 points from Eric Gordon and 13 points from Greivis Vasquez.
The Knicks are banged up and limping to the finish line, but they got a over the Magic to keep things moving for now. Iman Shumpert suffered a scare when he felt his knee pop during the game, but the trainers checked him out and everything is expected to be OK. J.R. Smith scored 22 points to lead the Knicks, while Carmelo Anthony got back into the swing of things with 21 points on 14 shots.
The Sixers played the Clippers close for one quarter, but will never have a chance when Jrue Holiday finishes with two points on 1-8 shooting. Chris Paul led the way with 19 points and nine assists as L.A. got small contributions from everyone in the blowout win.
The Wizards grabbed a road win in Phoenix, but Bradley Beal injured his left ankle during the game. Five players scored in double figures for Washington, and even though the Suns matched that scoring balance, they didn't have enough to take down the Wizards.
The Bobcats earned their 16th win of the season, and the Raptors put another notch on their belt for most disappointing team in the NBA.