TORONTO — As he so often does, LeBron James took over Sunday’s game late in the fourth quarter, and he did it in a variety of ways.
His rebound and pass set up a big 3-pointer from the corner by Chris Bosh to put the Miami Heat ahead by seven points.
Then James stole a pass by Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and took it the other way for a driving dunk, putting the Heat on their way to a 100-85 victory before a crowd of 19,800 at Air Canada Centre.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said James’ ability to dominate the late minutes might be overlooked.
“We don’t take that for granted because we know how valuable he is,” Spoelstra said. “But around the league that probably goes under the radar. In terms of a guy dominating in the last three to four minutes, he was being a facilitator. It speaks to how competitive he is and what kind of winning plays he can make.”
James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as the Heat defeated the Raptors for the 10 straight times, including two this season.
He had nine points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter.
The win clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference at the midway point in the season at 30-14 for the Heat. It means that Spoelstra and his coaching staff will handle the East team in the NBA all-star game.
“We’ve started to play better basketball in the past three or four weeks, so it is an honor,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a credit to our staff and a big-time credit to the players.”
Bosh, a former Raptor, added 28 points – 13 in the final quarter — and guard Dwyane Wade had 23 for the Heat.
Rudy Gay led Toronto with 29 points while DeMar DeRozan had 27 and Lowry 10.
The Heat did a good job on Lowry for most of the game, holding him to three assists and 3-for-7 shooting from the floor. He also made five turnovers.
“They did,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They got us out of whack. It did not help that Rudy has had only one practice. Going into a game where everyone is not on the same page is tough.”
Lowry and forward Amir Johnson both had four fouls, and that also contributed to the Raptors’ fourth-quarter struggles.
“Foul trouble got us in a bad way,” Casey said. “That team is not chopped liver. We have to play a perfect game – 90 to 95 percent – to play against them.”
Spoelstra, who coached the Heat to the NBA championship last season, said he wasn’t dwelling on coaching in the All-Star Game.
“You don’t spend any time thinking about it as it’s happening; you’re just trying to prepare your team and make sure you have the best record,” he said. “But now that it’s happened, it’s cool. We’ll make the most of it. Our staff is just thrilled about it and our players gave us some congratulations afterward and that’s about as rare a thing as you’ll get to see.”
“I think it’s awesome,” James said. “It’s a testament to our coaches preparing us and as players we go out and execute their game plan.”
James said the Heat changed their approach for the second half.
“We needed to consistently get stops,” he said. “We didn’t get enough stops in the first half. We shot 50 percent from the floor and were down by six at halftime. We knew if we were going to win this game, we had to defend and get multiple stops.”
“For three and a half quarters we played them as well as anyone in the league,” Gay said. “I think the fact that we haven’t been together for a long time, they exposed that in the fourth and a little bit in the third.”
Miami took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter and increased it to seven in the first four minutes. Alan Anderson cut that to five when he made two of three free throws after being fouled by Shane Battier on a 3-point attempt with 7:20 to play. DeRozan made a dunk three minutes later to cut the Heat lead to three. But when Bosh hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:42 to play the Heat led 90-83.
James stretched the lead to nine on a steal and a driving dunk. And when James hit a 3-pointer with 1:28 to play the lead was 12.
Notes: Toronto forward Landry Fields (acute back spasms) did not play Sunday. … Gay started at small forward after coming off the bench in his Raptors’ debut on Friday. Gay is still learning the Raptors’ system after he was obtained in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday. “We run a lot of similar schemes as Memphis,” Casey said before the game. “It shouldn’t take long for him to pick it up.” … Forward/center Andrea Bargnani (right elbow) of Toronto is close to a return but did not play Sunday. … The Heat lost, 102-89, at Indiana on Friday to drop to 11-11 in road games. “Where do I start?” Spoelstra asked before Sunday’s game trying to explain what happened on Friday. “(The Pacers) came ready to play,” he said. “They had us on our heels the entire night.” … Miami was 8-5 in January and has had 18 consecutive winning months. … The Heat play their next game on Monday at home against the Charlotte Bobcats and have won eight consecutive games against them, including a 105-92 decision at Charlotte in their first meeting of the season. …The Raptors are off until Wednesday when they are home to the Boston Celtics.