They did it where the streak started six Sundays ago, disposing of the Toronto Raptors 108-91 at the Air Canada Centre. The Heat have now won 22 straight, the same stratosphere the Houston Rockets ascended to in 2007-08.
James finished with 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, eight assists and two steals, a virtuoso performance now so commonplace that it hardly even stood out. Dwyane Wade had yet another efficient, dominant outing, scoring 24 points, dishing nine assists and shot 10-for-15 from the floor. Ray Allen added 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting off the bench, making four of his six 3-point attempts. The team shot 58 percent.
A few brief minutes of drama materialized in the second half, with the Heat holding a double-digit lead for the majority of the game. The Raptors needed less than three minutes spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters to pull off an 11-1 run that energized the crowd and made it feel like this could be a trap game.
With the score tied at 77 a minute into the fourth quarter, the Heat pulled away fast and ferociously. The 28-4 scoring outburst was more a statement of superiority than a run, with the Raptors making just 1 of 14 field goal attempts. James watched it begin from the bench and didn’t score a single point of it but assisted Allen twice and Shane Battier once for open 3-point looks.
“He came out at the end of the third quarter and felt frustrated that he wasn’t playing at the top of his game,” Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said. It’s somehow true: Having 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists through three quarters is not quite James at the top of his game.
“He was able to rest and came in and made some big plays,” Spoelstra continued. “That just shows you his level and his standard of play right now. We don’t take it for granted.”
The Heat don’t take their place in history for granted, either. But they aren’t dwelling on it. James says "it’s a special team, it’s a special ride," but also says "it’s not about the streak" in his next breath.
"Our goal is larger than a 22-game winning streak," said Battier, who played for those Rockets that reached this mark. “Our goal is to be the next to hoist the trophy. That’s all that matters. And this is another step on our journey. That’s the way we approach it. So the streak’s cool, but we have a bit bigger fish to fry.”
Battier addressed the team after the game in the locker room. No one had to ask him to do so; they knew it was coming.
“I told the guys just to enjoy it,” Battier said. “Enjoy the journey. Nothing we can do or say now to change what has happened in the last two months, which has been amazing. What we can control is a single moment. Seize it the best you can and move on. And that’s all you can do in life. If you can do that, you’ll live a long time and you’ll live a happy life.”
After talking to his teammates, the 34-year-old Battier joked with the media, calling himself "an old man" and mentioning he’s a member of the Washington Speakers Bureau. He also, of course, compared this to what he was a part of in 2008.
"The streak in Houston was much more out of left field, much more unexplainable," Battier continued. "Not that this is explainable ... but we did it with a bunch of role players and journeymen. Both streaks are the same from the standpoint that it takes amazing focus, concentration and effort, which is tough to do in February and March of an NBA season because it’s a long season. I’m proud of both streaks."
"It certainly will come up," Spoelstra said. "And if it’s talked about in the locker room and I’m walking through, it’s not like I’m telling anybody, ‘Hey, shhh, that’s forbidden. We can’t talk about it.’ We’re aware of it. But again when we started playing better two months ago it was about the process. It would be disingenuous if it changed right now and it was about the result."
Spoelstra said every game is different and the Heat must now prepare for the physical and mental challenge of facing their rival as they travel to Boston to face the Celtics tomorrow. Boston will look to play the spoiler but with how Miami manhandled Toronto in the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to envision the success sustaining itself a little while longer.
“The way the guys are flowing together right now and playing together, man, it’s incredible,” said Heat big man Chris Andersen. “We don’t really even talk about the streak very much, we just take it one game at a time, we go out there and we focus on that next team, focus, get set in, put in our scheme, accomplish it, keep our level of energy up and play the style that the Miami Heat should be playing.
"And we win."