As the media scrum swelled in the center of the room prior to Monday night’s 105-103 victory, the one the Heat wanted so badly, LeBron James paid it no mind, stretched out on the training table, rapping along to the track “Ignorance is Bliss” blasting into his headphones.
Ignorance may be bliss.
Awareness, however, is better.
As the evening went on, the Heat would become more and more aware.
They became aware they were in for a memorable battle, even with Kevin Garnett joining star teammate Rajon Rondo on the sidelines, due to the flu. They became aware that they had to elevate their defensive intensity, or else Jeff Green might score 100 points, rather than the 43 he would manage, still more than anyone against Miami this season.
They became aware that they couldn’t get rattled, or else they had no chance to rattle off another victory, their 23rd straight.
Their streak is second-longest in NBA history, surpassed only by the 1971-72 Lakers with 33.
“We certainly had to earn this one,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
So that they did, earning the franchise’s first regular-season win in Boston in the past 11 tries, earning it after falling behind by 17 in the first half and, after rallying, again by 13 with 8:27 remaining.
They had to earn it after Boston built the lead back to seven, after James gambled for a steal and Courtney Lee lost Mario Chalmers to sink a 3-pointer from the left corner. They had to earn it after Chalmers, ever resilient, nailed a 3-pointer of his own to give Miami a 101-100 lead, a lead that wasn’t expanded due to three wasted possessions — two James missed layups and a 24-second violation.
They had to earn it on defense, with James — taking over the Green assignment — blocking two of the Boston forward’s shots, and Dwyane Wade blocking one from Paul Pierce. They had to earn it on the boards, with Wade soaring back for a critical defensive rebound on a Brandon Bass miss.
They had to earn it on offense, with the score tied at 103.
The design was intended to get Ray Allen an open look in his old haunts.
“They did a good job on him,” James said.
So Wade got the ball back to James.
What did Spoelstra want there?
“Try to make a play,” Spoelstra said. “Save us. It’s been a tough game.”
And so, something did get rattled.
Not the Heat.
The ball around and through the rim, from 20 feet away.
“Jeff backed up on me, gave me a little room,” James said.
The game-winning jumper was a perfect capper to another brilliant night for James, one that included 37 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists and a vicious dunk off a Norris Cole lob that left Heat nemesis and nuisance Jason Terry flat on his back, an emasculation that warrants an aside.
It was Terry, formerly with Dallas, who teased and tormented Miami in the 2011 Finals, and who had said over the weekend that he “wasn’t impressed” by anything the Heat did, even the streak.
“I seen him down there,” James said. “I don’t think he saw me.”
James could smile about that second quarter encounter, because of what occurred in the game’s final 10.5 seconds. Because, even after James’ jumper, there was still that little time left — time that, in Boston for the Heat, is usually too much.
Green drove on Shane Battier, but Battier, in as a defensive substitution, stuck with him and blocked the ball out of bounds.
“He got all the way to the basket,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Shane Battier made a hell of a play.”
Boston retained possession, but Pierce’s shot was short.
On the other end, Battier had to pass the ball safely in bounds to preserve the lead. When Pierce turned his back to Battier, he threw it off Pierce’s back. Battier then stepped in bounds, grabbed the ball and killed the clock.
“That was Shane Battier thinking outside the box,” Spoelstra said.
That sealed the win and the Southeast Division, and started the party, one that certainly hadn’t stopped by the time Spoelstra spoke outside the locker room to the media, with all that hooting and hollering clearly heard from behind the closed door. In NBA history, over a 23-game stretch, only one team has been better.
“If you’re not first, you’re last,” Wade quipped. “That’s what Ricky Bobby said.”
That’s a reference to the movie “Talladega Nights.”
The race to the Lakers continues Wednesday in Cleveland, as everyone is now fully aware.