The Heat said all the right things during their recent stretch of five losses in six games, brought out every competitively correct cliche in the book and even dusted off some old ones.
But leave it to the guy who said the least to do the most on Sunday afternoon, when the defending champions played their most complete game in two weeks.
Ray Allen went off in a loud way in the fourth quarter, as the Heat roared from behind to score a hard-earned 113-104 victory against the Houston Rockets in front of a national television audience. They closed the game on a 21-7 run to avoid a third consecutive loss at AmericanAirlines Arena, which would have been their worst home stretch since the first season of the LeBron James era.
“With each loss in the last week, (the pressure) was mounting,” Allen conceded. “They were all games that were winnable. We were just shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Allen put his best foot forward in the fourth period, when he scored 14 of his season-high 25 points. In the process, he moved ahead of Allen Iverson into 21st place on the career points list.
Dwyane Wade did his part as well. He finished with 24 points, seven in the final quarter. He also had a team-high seven assists and a pair of steals.
James scored 24 points and had his moments, most notably a ridiculous three-pointer off the wrong (left) foot that beat the shot clock in the first half. But once again, he was fairly content to be a passenger in the final quarter, when he was limited to a pair of free throws after the outcome had all but been decided.
Enter the 38-year-old Allen, locked and loaded.
“This is 18 years for me now. I never know how I get open,” Allen said. “But when I do, I just have be ready to shoot (the ball).”
When Allen drained a three-pointer to open the fourth period, it was a portent of things to come. It wasn’t until the veteran converted a layup off a Wade feed that the Heat took a permanent lead with three minutes, 31 seconds on the clock. He followed with a three-pointer and the visitors never seriously threatened thereafter.
“What Ray has been able to do these last few games is great for us,” James said. “Getting him on the move, getting him some shots, getting him comfortable and feeling like he’s part of our offense is big time. I’ll find my rhythm. It’s great that everybody else is good right now.”
James Harden led the Rockets with 30 points. Dwight Howard finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, but like James, he was a non-factor down the stretch.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra shook up the line-up in an attempt to find the right combination. Greg Oden started in place of Shane Battier with mixed results. In 13 minutes, Oden grabbed a half-dozen rebounds but failed to score and struggled to keep up with the speed of the game at times.
Said Spoelstra, “More than anything, what we said today was, ‘Help us win, all 15 guys, even the two guys not dressed. Help us win. Don’t worry about the rotation. Don’t worry about officiating. Don’t worry about shots, minutes, anything. Help us win.’
“We saw a better collaborative effort in that area.”
Nobody was happier to witness it than Wade’s fiancee Gabrielle and James’ wife Savannah, who were among those in the sellout crowd.
“They always say, ‘Happy wife, happy life,'” Wade said. “Well, it goes the other way, too.”