In the first half of the season, this was the kind of game the Heat would lose — a back-to-back, a fired up opponent playing better than they have in weeks, and the Heat just kind of coasting.
With an 8.5 game lead over the No. 2 in the East, it’s the kind of game they might have lost now, too, if their winning streak didn’t give them something to play for.
But it does and once again the Heat made just enough plays down the stretch to beat the Sixers 98-94 and extend their winning streak to 20 games. This was the third time the Heat have beaten the Sixers in this streak.
With the win, the Heat are 10-1 on the second night of a back-to-back this season with the win. Which isn’t as impressive as 20-straight wins (the Heat are only the fourth team in NBA history to get to 20) but it is impressive nonetheless.
When you are the defending champs on a win streak lesser teams get up to play you — the Magic did it last week — and the Sixers came out with a real energy at home. Evan Turner had eight early points and when you throw in six Heat turnovers you get Philly on an 11-2 run and an early small lead. It was 22-21 Philly after one.
But you knew the Heat run was coming. It did in the Heat in the second quarter with an 11-0 run when they went to a lineup of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, LeBron and Chris Bosh. It eventually grew to a 17-2 run. The Heat were able to get to the rim and score on easy buckets (usually a LeBron jam) meanwhile the Sixers were settling for jumpers and shot 8-of-23 in the second. It was Heat 51, Sixers 39 at halftime and LeBron had 18.
Where the Sixers deserve credit is they didn’t just come out and mail in the second half. Instead they came out early in the third quarter on a 13-4 run that included a lot of hustle plays like Jrue Holiday getting the rebound on his own miss. Holiday finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Thaddeus Young had the other good game for Philly with 24 points and 15 rebounds.
When Dorell Write knocked down a three, then stole the ball on the next Heat possession, ran out in front and threw down the slam it was a four-point game midway through fourth quarter.
After a Holiday three (his third of the second half) the Sixers had an 83-82 lead with 5:20 left. The Sixers went on a 15-2 run.
But where the Heat might have coasted before they played with enough energy down the stretch because they wanted the streak. Bosh hit an awkward-looking hook from the post and later pump faked Spencer Hawes and drove for the layup.
LeBron was driving and scoring, he finished with 27 points on 19 shots. Holiday was trying but missing some contested looks. Ray Allen drained a three to give the Heat the lead for good (Allen had 12 points). And when it mattered, the LeBron and Wade each hit their free throws. And Bosh had a block of Young that sealed the game.
The Heat still wanted it at the end and they had more talent to put on the floor than the Sixers. That passion to still get the win is what the streak has given the Heat when they might otherwise be back to coasting and waiting for the playoffs to start.