Norris Cole stripped Kyrie Irving on the final play of the contest to help the Miami Heat secure a 96-95 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in a hard-fought Eastern Conference bout at Quicken Loans Arena.
Cole, who played his collegiate basketball at Cleveland State, posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the win for Miami, which was without Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. Rashard Lewis scored 19 points and James Jones added 14.
"When you go out there and call on guys on the bench, it seems that someone always seems to step up," said Lewis after the win. "It lets you know how truly professional this team really is and how deep out bench really is."
Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson netted 16 points apiece for the Cavs, who finished 14-27 at home and dropped their fifth game in a row. Thompson also pulled down 13 boards. Irving finished 7-of-19 from the floor and Alonzo Gee chimed in with 13 points.
Cleveland took control early on as Thompson's putback dunk with 2:23 left in the opening quarter gave it a 19-11 lead. Cole began to get into a rhythm to help the Heat go into the second quarter trailing, 22-18.
Waiters gave the hosts a huge spark in the second quarter, coming off the bench to go 5-of-6 from the field en route to 12 points. Miami countered with its own backup shooting guard, Ray Allen, who paced the team in the second frame with eight points. Wayne Ellington drained a 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds showing on the game clock to send Cleveland into the intermission on top, 52-49.
The Heat went on 10-2 run to open third quarter to take a 59-54 lead. Lewis tallied nine points in the 12 minutes after halftime while Cole did an excellent job distributing and handed out three assists. Lewis extended Miami's lead to 80-69 on its final possession before Waiters put in a layup just before the buzzer to make it a nine-point game. Cleveland fell behind as it went 7-of-23 from the field in the third quarter.
The Cavs refused to quit and chipped away at the deficit throughout the fourth period. Irving made a pair of driving layups in the final minute to make it a one-point game at 96-95 with 19.4 seconds remaining. After Cole missed both of his attempts at the free-throw line, Cleveland had the ball with a chance to win. Cole made up for it as he cleanly took the ball away from Irving as he attempted a potential game-winning jumper.
"We had an opportunity to win the game, but (Norris Cole) got a hand on the ball," Irving said of the final play. "It was a good defensive play."
The decision was the seventh in a row versus the Cavs for Miami, which improved to an NBA best 29-12 on the road in its final away game of the regular season.
Miami held a 45-38 edge in the rebounding battle ... The Heat committed 18 turnovers to Cleveland's six ... Kevin Jones scored 10 points for the Cavs... Allen, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony contributed 11 points each for Miami ... Miami went 13-of-28 from beyond the arc ... Cleveland hit on 5-of-13 from 3- point range.