TORONTO – Miami’s record-setting win steak continued where it started thanks to an inspiring speech from Heat veteran Shane Battier.
The 34-year-old forward delivered a rousing team speech the night Miami started its streak in Toronto with victory Feb 3., and delivered another one Sunday after the Heat defeated the Raptors 108-91 to win their 22nd consecutive game.
Of course, some credit should go to LeBron James, who poured in 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to lead Miami’s offence, but it was Battier’s oratory skills that had the Heat talking after the game.
“We found it fitting for him to give us another speech tonight after the game,” said Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra. “I didn’t say a word to him, just brought us together and Shane took it from there.
“Coach (Pat) Riley gets paid close to six figures for his speeches. I don’t know what Shane should charge now, but he should get something.”
Dwyane Wade had 24 points and nine assists while Chris Bosh chipped in 18 points for the Heat (51-14), who matched the 2007-08 Houston Rockets at 22 and now trail just the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33). Miami moved ahead of the 1970-71 Bucks (20) on Friday, fittingly, in Milwaukee.
“We’re doing it together,” said James. “We’re doing it for one another, and just want to try and keep it going. It’s not about the streak, it’s about us getting better each and every day. Preparing to win each and every night.”
It was another Miami veteran making a difference on the court Sunday as sharpshooter Ray Allen scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as Miami pulled away.
Battier, who delivered his first memorable speech on Super Bowl Sunday, said there’s no special magic to his words.
“I talk from the heart,” he said. “And I’m an old man around here. I’ve seen a few things, played for some great coaches. Seize the moment, enjoy the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in the past, but enjoy where you are right now, and you’ll live a happy life.”
Rudy Gay led Toronto (26-41) with 27 points and Amir Johnson pulled down 18 boards to go with 18 points. Jonas Valanciunas also had 18 points while DeMar DeRozan added 12.
Toronto opened the fourth with Johnson dunking to make it a one-point game as the green-clad Air Canada Centre crowd erupted. Minutes later, Wade wowed with an alley-oop off a lob that came from half-court. That seemed to ignite the Heat as Miami went on a 8-0 run to make it 89-77 at 7:42.
Allen led the late drive with two at the line and two straight from downtown as Miami controlled the game down the stretch with an 21-point lead with five minutes left to play and never stumbled.
“I guess we ran out of gas,” said Johnson, who left late in the fourth with bloodied nose. “We turned it up in the third. It seemed like we went back to third in fourth and that’s when they made their run. Ray Allen just killed us with those threes. With a team like that we just have to play energized because they have so many weapons they can use.”
Wade did most of the work for Miami in the third with seven straight points to make it 66-55, but the Raptors crawled back on Valanciunas’ jump hook and DeRozan’s layup to force a Miami time out at 6:49. Bosh came out of the huddle with a triple, but again Toronto fought back to make it 76-71 with a minute left in the third. The crowd roared when DeRozan jacked up a two with nine seconds left on the clock to make it a three-point game going into the final quarter.
Allen also made his presence felt in the second with a short-range bucket and nice reverse layup to stretch Miami’s lead to 35-25 four minutes in. Ex-Raptor Bosh, showered with boos at every touch of the ball, threw down a slam off a dish from Wade to make it 40-27 two minutes later.
Toronto finally got the fans on their feet with a Terrence Ross slam, but James quieted the arena with a wide open three to finish the half with the Heat leading 55-43 on 61 per cent shooting. Though the Raps shot 43 per cent, they controlled the boards with 29 rebounds and finished the game with a 51-26 edge against the glass.
Gay, despite being tasked with the unenviable job of guarding James, shot 5 for 7 and finished the first half with 11 points.
“Obviously everybody in the league is striving to be at the level he is,” Gay said of his assignment. “He’s playing at the top of his game right now. We have to pick up our level around him. I just try to pick up my level to push the team to win.”
James swished the first basket of the game, a three from the corner. But Gay answered right back with a field goal and later made a hard drive to the hoop for two plus the foul, tying the game at 10 midway through the quarter. Miami bench’s came in for the final two minutes and went on a 8-2 run to close out the frame 27-19.
Before the game Raptors coach Dwane Casey preached the importance of taking care of the ball, but Toronto committed seven turnovers in the first that Miami converted into nine points.
“In the first half, we were feeling our way into the game,” said Casey. “I thought we played well in the second half … we got the game within striking distance, but we have to sustain that focus on both ends of the floor.”
Miami will attempt a 23rd straight win in the unfriendly confines of Boston’s TD Garden on Monday night against the Celtics. Houston’s streak in 07-08 came to an end at the hands of the Celtics.
The Raptors next play Wednesday in Charlotte before returning home to face the New York Knicks on Friday.
Notes: Toronto has lost 11 straight to Miami — the team’s longest active losing streak to an opponent. … Miami has beaten every team in the NBA at least once this season. … It was Toronto’s third time playing at home on St. Patrick’s Day and first since moving to the Air Canada Centre in 1999. … Longtime Raptor Morris Peterson was in attendance to take in the game. He played seven seasons in Toronto and was honoured with a video montage between quarters. … 40-year-old forward Juwan Howard was inactive for Miami. … The Heat is 43-21 all-time against the Raptors.