Cleveland, OH – Once again, LeBron James broke the hearts of the city of Cleveland.
The ex-Cavalier recorded a triple-double that helped trigger a huge second- half comeback and extend the Miami Heat's winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a 98-95 decision over Cleveland at a charged-up Quicken Loans Arena.
Visiting his former city for only the fourth time since leaving the Cavs for Miami as the most sought-after free agent in NBA history during July of 2010, James racked up 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in sparking the Heat's rally from a 27-point third-quarter deficit. Nineteen of those points came after halftime.
"These are unique days in my career as a professional basketball player," said James. "You know, they came out and jumped all over us, then we came back and went on one of the best runs I've ever been a part of in this sport."
Five other Miami players finished in double figures to aid in the Heat's lengthening of the second-longest winning run in league annals. Mario Chalmers contributed 17 points, with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier all netting 11 on the evening.
Despite being without its top two scorers in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Cleveland was in front by a wide margin for much of the way before wilting down the stretch and being dealt its fourth straight loss and eighth and 10 outings.
Wayne Ellington paced the Cavs with 20 points, while Tristan Thompson had 18 and Tyler Zeller compiled 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Miami's streak appeared to be in serious jeopardy after Luke Walton's tip-in put Cleveland up by a 73-53 count with 3:28 remaining in the third quarter, but the Heat connected on six of their next eight shots during a 15-1 run that trimmed the deficit to six in the waning seconds of the period.
The Heat stayed on fire once the fourth quarter got underway, with James and Ray Allen spearheading a 17-2 sequence to begin the session to put the defending champs in front for the first time since the game's initial stages.
The duo made good on four tries from 3-point distance during the pivotal flurry, with James' trey with 9:40 left giving Miami an 80-79 edge and Allen burying one of his own just over a minute afterward to extend the differential to four. Chalmers capped the surge with a layup off a James steal with 6:58 left, making the score 85-79 in the Heat's favor.
Cleveland eventually went down by nine with three minutes left, but closed the gap via a 9-1 run as Miami went cold. An Alonzo Gee dunk with 1:23 to go brought the Cavs within 96-93, and Thompson hit two foul shots with 44.1 seconds on the clock to create a one-point game.
Ellington misfired on a potential go-ahead jumper with 5.2 seconds remaining, however, and James promptly sank two crucial free throws on the other end before Cleveland's C.J. Miles couldn't hit on a long jumper that would have forced overtime.
"It's painful blowing this one," said Thompson. "We were up by 26 and we just couldn't hang on. They were making shots in the second half and there wasn't much we could do about it."
The determined Cavaliers put together an 10-1 run to speed out to a 26-17 lead with just over eight minutes elapsed, and carried a 32-24 advantage into the second quarter with the aid of four Heat turnovers Cleveland converted into seven points.
Miami scored the first seven points of the second frame to pull within one, but didn't make a single field goal over the final 6:44 of the half. The Cavs ripped off a 19-0 tear during that drought, with Miles accounting for the initial eight points, to open up a commanding 55-33 cushion before Wade stopped the bleeding by sinking 1-of-2 from the line to close out the period.
Cleveland kept pouring it on early in the second half, with the lead swelling to 67-40 following a three-point play from Zeller just over four minutes in.
The start of the game was delayed 35 minutes due to the scoreboard over center court dripping fluid onto the floor ... The Heat have now won six straight in the series and are 9-1 against the Cavs since James joined the team ... James's triple-double was his fourth this season and 36th of his career ... Cleveland fell to 5-14 in games played without Irving, who is dealing with a sprained left shoulder ... Waiters is expected to miss a week with a strained left knee ... Cleveland signed guard Chris Quinn from Tulsa of the NBADL on Wednesday.