1. LeBron James Backs Up His Winning Stroke
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Debate putting faces on monuments or all-time starting fives all you want; there's at least one real-world way to determine a player's place in the fabric and history of the game.
As fans streamed out of Oracle Arena late Wednesday night after their team had just experienced a devastating loss, they had smiles on their faces. They shook their heads, re-enacted what they had just seen and were laughing.
The Golden State Warriors' fans are some of the most loyal in the country, but even in defeat, they knew they had collectively experienced an "I was there" moment that they would be retelling well into the future.
Virtually every game LeBron James plays, he will do something to create a memory, whether it's a dunk, a whizzing pass or an out-of-nowhere block. He's not worth the price of admission; he exceeds it. Yet within those hundreds of performances, there are some jewels, and Wednesday night was one of them.
Tired from playing the whole second half on the second night of a back-to-back with a little more burden because Dwyane Wade was in the locker room with a foot issue, James had one of those moments. Wanting to end it and more than willing to deal with the fallout of missing, James drilled a step-back 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left to finish off a masterful game and give his Miami Heat a satisfying 111-110 win over an aghast Warriors team.
It was the final act in a thrilling finish that saw James and Stephen Curry exchange haymakers in a genuine All-Star warm-up. Curry scored 29 points, including an exquisite stop-and-go 3-point play with 14.6 seconds left.
The Warriors, who trailed by 21 points in the third quarter, were up two points, and the crowd was in full blast. But James had the last shot and pumped maximum drama into that 14.5-second span.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "The official was screaming at me, 'Do you want a timeout?' I just turned my back because I didn't want the other bench to know. We just wanted to see if LeBron could shake free for something easy before they set their defense."
Chris Bosh: "I was like, 'What's the play?'"
James: "I was going for the win the whole time. I just wanted to make sure I made it with no time left or missed it with no time left."
Spoelstra: "If I would've realized he was going to work that thing all the way down to the end of the clock, I would've ran out there and screamed timeout."
Bosh: "Then I was like, 'Oh, that's the play.'"
Warriors coach Mark Jackson: "Do you trap him? They spread the ball with shooters, and what you don't want to do in that situation is have a great passer hit one of the shooters in rhythm. The defense was very good, and Andre [Iguodala] did his job."
Iguodala: "There's nothing I would change."
Spolestra: "I was itching to call timeout."
James: "I was looking for the step-back."
Klay Thompson: "I thought it was short. I thought we won the game."
James: "It felt great. I was able to stand up and watch the flight of the ball. It looked good the whole time."
Wade: "So there's a 10-second delay on the [locker room] TV. I just heard this "oohhhhh" and I knew something had happened. I heard someone run down the hall and yell, "Damn it, LeBron," but I had to wait for it to make sure."
Jackson: "We witnessed greatness, a special player and an all-time great who made a big-time shot."
Curry: "We got beat by a great shot."
Iguodala: "You've got to give him credit for that."
Heat president Pat Riley: "That was pretty darn good."
Spoelstra: "I decided to let a great player try to make a great play."
James: "I always want to come through for my teammates; obviously I'm not going to be able to come through every time. To be able to deliver tonight, and send my teammates into the All-Star break on the right note, meant everything."
James broke into his Nick Van Exel "lower the roof" act as the Warriors' fans twisted in their seats to look at each other's reactions with their hands on their heads. It was the final touch of a 36-point, 13-rebound, nine-assist, two-steal night that qualified as James' best game of the season to this point. It came 24 hours after a 37-point, nine-rebound, five-steal night in another excellent road win at Phoenix that Wade also missed.
It was the eighth time in James' career that he made a game-winning shot in the final second. It was the second time in five years that he did it to the Warriors, as he hit a similar step-back jumper in January 2009 to beat Golden State by a single point at the buzzer.
"Eight of them, huh?" James said. "Not too bad for a guy who isn't clutch."
2. Around the Association
MVP: Paul Pierce scored 25 points on a ridiculous 9-for-11 tear from the field, and a perfect 5-for-5 from downtown. He also had 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. This 25-point outing ties his third-most points in a game this season, and his 5 threes were the second-most he's made this season.
X factor: The Nets' bench combined or 42 points, with most of the offense coming from Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche both contributing 13 points apiece. Andrei Kirilenko also deserves credit for his pesky play, seemingly being a step quicker than Charlotte and harassing the Bobcats defensively throughout the contest.
Defining moment: The Nets caught fire in the third quarter, draining three after three as the Bobcats felt the fatigue of this being their second of a back-to-back. Brooklyn outscored the Bobcats 35-19, effectively taking control of this game for good.
MVP: When the Grizzlies needed a bucket in crunch time, Zach Randolph delivered. He had 20 points on the evening and made critical baskets down the stretch to allow Memphis to come away with a victory on the road.
X factor: Courtney Lee has been solid for the Grizzlies since arriving from the Boston Celtics in the one-on-one swap for Jerryd Bayless, and tonight was no exception. Lee (15 points) played well against the team that originally drafted him.
That was ... scary: Midway through the third quarter, Marc Gasol banged knees with Jameer Nelson and left the game. It was the same left knee that Gasol injured earlier in the season. It remains to be seen whether the injury is serious.
MVP: DeMar DeRozan scored 31 points, including 14 in the third quarter to help the Raptors pull away in the second half. He shot 7-for-7 from the charity stripe and was a game-high plus-18.
LVP: The Hawks' starting backcourt of Lou Williams (irony noted) and Jeff Teague. They scored a combined 18 points on 16 field goal attempts and were thoroughly outplayed by their counterparts in DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who poured in 47 points.
Turning point: The third quarter. The Raptors came out of the half with significantly more energy than the Hawks, snagging offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line at will en route to outscoring Atlanta 33-21.
MVP: Monta Ellis did a little of everything, recording 23 points -- including 11 in the fourth -- six assists and nine rebounds. Ellis came up huge in the fourth, and not just because of his aforementioned scoring. He snagged several key defensive rebounds that prevented any hope of an Indiana victory.
X factor: Brandan Wright was the key cog for Dallas in the pivotal fourth quarter. His stats won't necessarily show it, but he made several nice defensive plays, in addition to his seven points and five rebounds.
That was ... chippy: First, Lance Stephenson gets a technical foul, followed closely by Jose Calderon. Then, Dirk Nowitzki and David West exchange words, as well as elbows. Not to be left out of the action, George Hill and Jose Calderon start exchanging unpleasantries. This was not a friendly game of basketball.
MVP: Tim Duncan had just two points at halftime as the Spurs struggled without Tony Parker. The 37-year-old then erupted for 23 second-half points, and San Antonio won its final pre-All-Star contest 104-92 to head into the break on a good note.
X factor: Marco Belinelli was all over the place. One of the newest Spurs nearly registered a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and he hit a couple of 3-pointers as he warms up for the 3-point contest this weekend in New Orleans.
That was ... much-needed. The Spurs have been dealing with pretty substantial injury issues, basically since the calendar switched to the new year. They didn't have Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Parker or Tiago Splitter against the Celtics, so needless to say, a win with so many injured players is an important one.
MVP: Kevin Love put up his 13th 30-and-10 game of the season before the third quarter was over. Denver had no answer for the stretch 4, who added eight assists and six 3-pointers by game's end.
X factor: An absence of point guards for Denver. With Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson injured and Andre Miller set adrift by the team, the Nuggets' lack of ball handlers showed with 21 turnovers.
That was ... a brutal blowout: Minnesota was working with a 20-point gap for much of the game. The Wolves' offense was an orchestra of passing that stood in stark contrast to Denver's collection of dissonant jumpers.
MVP: Brian Roberts. Teammate Eric Gordon had more points (21 to 17) and assists (6 to 5), but Roberts' penetration off the dribble was the key to getting the Bucks' defense to leave shooters open.
Deciding moment: With the Bucks down by three with 1:25 left, Ersan Ilyasova got open at the rim and missed a dunk. He recovered with a 3-point shot on the next possession but missed a potential game-tying shot in the lane with 15 seconds left.
X factor: With just three healthy bigs, the Bucks caught a break when Anthony Davis got his fourth foul in the third quarter. But Alexis Ajinca displayed a soft touch in the paint, scoring 10 points in the quarter and 16 overall -- on 7-for-7 shooting.
MVP: James Harden did some of everything, but he did a lot of free throw shooting. He did it incredibly well (16-for-16) to boot. Houston's bearded baller scored 35 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists.
X factor: Trevor A-three-za! The former Rocket and current Wizard set a career high and a Washington franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a game with 10 made 3-pointers (10-for-14 overall). His 32 points brought the Wizards all the way back from the brink of a blowout.
Defining moment: With four seconds remaining and Washington up 110-108, Ariza was called for a rare before-the-inbounds foul on an apparently believable Harden. Ariza fouled out (joining Nene and Marcin Gortat), and Harden scored the next three points to seal the win for Houston.
MVP: Alec Burks saved his best for last. After Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams sunk a free throw to knot things at 91 with 2:10 left, the 22-year-old guard took matters into his own hands, scoring nine unanswered points on an assortment of drives to give the Jazz a lead they wouldn't relinquish. He finished with 26 points on 10 shots.
X factor: The Sixers figure to be active players at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, and three of their most available pieces bounced back Wednesday after rocky outings against the Clippers and Warriors. Evan Turner scored 21, Thaddeus Young had 19, and Spencer Hawes posted a 16 and 11.
That was ... too much, too little, too late: With the Utah lead at nine, Philadelphia's James Anderson made things interesting at the end, hitting a trio of 3-pointers in the game's final 18 seconds. Anderson finished with 15 points on a 5-of-8 mark from deep.
3. Wednesday's Best
LeBron James, Heat: James step-back 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to propel the Heat past the Golden State Warriors 111-110. With Dwyane Wade out of action, James shouldered the load, finishing with 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
4. Wednesday's Worst
New York Knicks: If they haven't suffered enough, the Knicks just got Jimmered. Jimmer Fredette, the former BYU college phenom, sank six 3-pointers on the Knicks, who fell further out of the East playoff race and appear ready to be passed by Cleveland.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I was going for the win the whole time."
-- LeBron James, on whether he was considering lining up the final shot for a tying 2-pointer or a winning trey.
8. Return Of The Native
9. Stat Check
LeBron James' game-winning shot Wednesday was the first go-ahead 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds of a fourth quarter or overtime of his regular-season career. (He was previously 0-for-7).
10. Top 3 Plays
Around the Association
MVP: Tristan Thompson had his hands full with the twin towers of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but he was steady all night and absolutely exploded in the fourth quarter, giving the Cavs the final push they needed to break through against the feisty Pistons. The Cavs needed a hero with Varejao out and Irving and Deng struggling. TT answered the call, finishing with 25 points and 15 rebounds on a blistering 12-for-16 shooting.
LVP: Brandon Jennings never got it going tonight, even as the Cavs opted to pack the paint in the second half to slow the Pistons' bigs. Part of the problem was egregious shot selection -- at one point, Jennings jacked a heat-check pull-up 3 in transition from 5 feet behind the line. He finished just 3-for-14 from the field.
That was ... the Cavs and Pistons of the late '80s? So much for scoring point guards and corner 3s -- this game brought back the rough-and-tumble, post-centric style that dominated the Eastern Conference in the late 1980s. Both teams played gritty defense, and the referees allowed a lot of contact. Post moves, garbage buckets and hard fouls, Oh my!
MVP: Any doubts surrounding Blake Griffin's offensive role now that Chris Paul has returned need to quelled. Griffin had 32 points and 10 rebounds on 13-of-21 (61.9 percent) shooting against one of the longer frontcourts in the league and continued his effectiveness from virtually every spot on the floor.
Defining moment: Ryan Hollins hedged high on a sideline screen-and-roll, drawing a charge on Damian Lillard -- his fifth foul. At the time, the Blazers led 103-100. Lillard sat the next three minutes, and the Blazers' offense stalled. From that point on, L.A. outscored Portland 22-14.
X factor: The Blazers' 3-point shooting (13-of-31, 41.9 percent). If not for their absurd accuracy on contested long balls, the Blazers would have lost by double-digits. They were plus-nine in 3-point makes, which made up for the free throw disparity (Clippers: plus-eight).
MVP: How can you vote against LeBron for MVP? Down two with the game clock expiring, the Warriors didn't double-team him. James buried a deep 3 on the road to seal the game. He finished with 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, just missing a triple-double.
Defining moments: LeBron missed the second of two free throws to give the Heat a one-point lead with 25 seconds left. Steph Curry came down, hit a layup and was fouled for a 3-point play. You know the rest.
That was ... a battle of two All-Stars: James and Curry put on a show for the fans. In one of the most entertaining games of the year, the Warriors come back from an early 21-point deficit on the back of Curry's amazing play. But the reigning MVP trumped him.
MVP: Rudy Gay. Twenty points on 22 shots isn't emblematic of the efficient game he's displayed since being traded to the Kings, but he banged home the game-tying shot over Amar'e Stoudemire with 20 seconds to go and nailed a 3-pointer to put them ahead for good.
X factor: In a performance that hearkened to his days at Brigham Young, Jimmer Fredette scored season-high 24 points, including 6-for-8 from distance and 15 during a torrid eight-minute start of the second quarter that brought Sacramento back from an early double-digit deficit.
LVP: For reasons beyond the understanding of mortal men, Mike Woodson kept an injured Raymond Felton in the game for most of the fourth and all of OT despite numerous ghastly, unforced turnovers and a passel of blown layups and floaters. You can pin it on the coach or the player, but they're both equally deserving of your scorn.