LeBron James and his Heat teammates didn't take part in their recent pregame dunk ritual. James saved it for the game, slamming the Knicks' hopes of beating the defending champs again and proving they are a serious contender in the East.
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James capped his spectacular performance with a steal and monstrous tomahawk dunk to put the finishing touches on a disappointing afternoon for the Knicks Sunday. They blew a double-digit second-half lead, executed poorly down the stretch and fell, 99-93.
The Knicks were down 97-93 with about 30 seconds left when J.R. Smith threw an ill-advised pass intended for Carmelo Anthony. James stole it and went in for a breakaway slam as Anthony's body almost collapsed in defeat.
"We made some mistakes, turned the ball over," said Anthony, who had 32 points. "That turnover was probably just the icing on the cake there."
"I definitely telegraphed it," Smith said.
James had 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, and got even stronger after taking a hard spill from a Smith foul in the third quarter. He appeared to injure his left knee but shook it off and had 12 points and three assists in the fourth.
The Heat (43-14) -- which trailed by 16 late in the second quarter and 14 at halftime before holding the Knicks to 34 points in the second half -- earned its 14th straight win and opened a 7 1/2-game lead on the third-place Knicks in the conference. "We were down multiple times by double digits, and to be able to gut it out was huge," James said.
"You're not going to stop him," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "He's figured it out. He's great at controlling the game . . . They remember the first two games and they made us pay coming down the stretch. We didn't finish."
The Knicks (35-21) trounced Miami by 20 points in each of their first two meetings, but the teams have gone in different directions since. Miami continues to get better; the Knicks have been mediocre and sometimes maddening.
The Knicks led by 11 with 14 minutes remaining in the game but got sloppy with the basketball and fell in love with the three-point shot again.
The Knicks sank 37 three-pointers in the first two games against Miami, and when they built their first-half lead Sunday, they hit five second-quarter threes, four by Jason Kidd.
But the Knicks were 8-for-29 overall from outside the arc. Smith was the biggest culprit, missing 11 of 14. "I took three bad pull-ups," he said. "I have to find another way to help our team on the offensive end."
Anthony was 3-for-11 with eight points after halftime. He got hit on the left arm late in the first half and said the arm and his knee bothered him, but he finished the game.
Kidd broke out of his shooting slump, scoring 14 points. Smith scored 13 and grabbed 12 rebounds but was 5-for-18.
The Knicks took their last lead when Smith hit a three off Kidd's steal to make it 87-85. From there, they shot 2-for-9 and committed three turnovers.
Chris Bosh scored inside and Dwyane Wade (20 points) gave Miami the lead with a bucket in the paint. Then James stuffed Tyson Chandler and put back an offensive rebound with 4:05 left to make it 91-87.
With the score 93-91, Smith misfired on a long three. James got the rebound, drove and scored. After Raymond Felton's turnover, Bosh hit a jumper to make it 97-91 with 1:06 left.
"When it was crunch time, we turned it over and didn't get shots," Woodson said. "They made us pay for it. They're a good team, a great team. You have to do everything right to beat that team."