In the first half of Monday night's game between the Cavaliers and the Heat in Miami, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were locked in what promised to be an epic duel that would go down in the annals.
The Cavaliers started off flat, while Wade and Jermaine O'Neal led the Heat to a 34-24 lead. And by "led," I mean that they scored 27 of the 34. O'Neal had 14 and Wade had 13. The Cavs were down by as many as 14 points in the quarter.
At the top of the second, LeBron and Wade took their usual break, but they didn't get to watch any good basketball. Both teams went cold. In those five minutes, the Cavs had one field goal and the Heat had none.
But when they entered the game, the LeBron / Wade show was about to start. In LeBron's first two minutes on the floor, the Cavs surged . . . going on an 11-1 run. James, who scored most of those points, capped the run with an incredible dunk on Wade.
Technically, it wasn't "on Wade," but he powered the slam through Wade, who was in the process of fouling him hard on the arm. LeBron missed the and-one, but the Cavs were up 38-37.
The Heat missed their first 12 field goals in the quarter, a dry spell that lasted the first eight-and-a-half minutes of the quarter.
Then, in a three-plus minute period, LeBron and Wade scored 24 straight points. It was an amazing back-and-forth, with both players seemingly trying to one-up the other. By the end, both LeBron and Wade had scored the last 12 straight points for their teams.
With six seconds left in the quarter, Wade made a 3-pointer from a step or two behind the arc. It apparently took Anthony Parker by surprise, because he didn't get his arms up to contest the shot until the ball was already over his head.
Of course, six seconds is plenty of time for LeBron to jog up the court and jack up (and make) a clutch answer-three from a solid two feet behind the line. And that's exactly what he did. Then, with like a second left, Wade heaved up another three . . . from well beyond half-court . . . and he drew both backboard and iron, but it didn't go.
The half ended with Miami up 54-50.
Everyone was buzzing. The NBA TV studio peeps . . . Eric Snow, Brent Barry, and Matt Something . . . were uncontrollably giddy. And I wouldn't be surprised if David Stern was instantly mobilizing by arranging a tactical airlift to send one of those "Where Amazing Happens" camera crews to Miami.
And can you blame them?
In the first half, LeBron scored 22 points (on 7-of-14 shooting) with two rebounds and two assists. He only scored two points in the first quarter, meaning that he scored 20 of the Cavs' 26 points in the second.
Wade . . . who had 13 points in the first . . . ended the half with 30 points (on 9-of-12 shooting) with five rebounds.
Each team's respective O'Neals were the only other notable scorers. Miami's Jermaine O'Neal had 14 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) and our Shaquille O'Neal had 10 points (on 5-of-6 shooting). The supporting casts were streaky, leading to extended periods of weak minutes for both teams.
So this definitely did seem to be shaping up as one of those megastar vs. megastar games, heavy on superhuman individual play . . . and light on five-on-five action.
And then the third quarter began, and the streaky play continued . . . but the LeBron / Wade duel was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Heat's Michael Beasley got hot, and Miami went on an 11-4 run.
Then, the Cavs went on a 9-0 run. LeBron hit a couple shots, and Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson chipped in. From that point until the final minute, the game coasted along. For Cleveland, Andy and Boobie were hitting shots . . . for Miami it was Beasley and Udonis Haslem.
But LeBron and Wade did hook up one more time. Defensively. And it decided the game.
With 40 seconds left . . . and Miami up 91-90 . . . LeBron had the ball in the post with Wade on him. Wade played great defense, got LeBron off balance and out of rhythm, and ended up blocking his shot. Miami gained possession.
But on the other end of the floor, Wade attempted an ill-advised behind-the-back pass to Haslem with six seconds left. LeBron . . . who was guarding Wade . . . anticipated the move (or got a little lucky) and stole the ball. He managed to retain possession and charged to the hoop where he was fouled by Quentin Richardson and inadvertently hit on the head by Wade.
He pulled himself together and made both free throws to make it 92-91.
In the final seconds, Wade missed a jumper, and the Cavs won.
It was a crazy game to watch, but the LeBron / Wade fireworks were over at halftime.
Check this out:
In the second half, LeBron had ten points, seven rebounds and two assists. Wade had two points, five rebounds and five assists. LeBron made his final field goal of the game with 4:10 left to go in the third quarter. Wade made his only bucket with 4:33 left in the fourth.
Both those defensive plays were huge . . . and from the other perspective, both of those offensive possessions were pretty bad (especially Wade's careless turnover). But superhuman superstars aren't always super. And when they are, it isn't always timely.
This time, Wade didn't have a highlight left to stop the Cavs.