HOUSTON -- Even with a collection of ballyhooed offensive stars, the Miami Heat earned the 2011-12 NBA title by mustering exceptional defensive intensity during the regular season and ratcheting it up in the playoffs.
So far this season, however, the Heat's defense could hardly be considered passable.
Miami is ranked second in offensive efficiency for a reason, and its quality on that end of the court Monday night overcame the team's defensive woes in a dramatic 113-110 victory over the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center.
Once ahead by 17, the Heat (6-2) trailed by eight early in the fourth quarter before clawing back behind the brilliance of LeBron James.
James scored eight consecutive points down the stretch for the Heat, including a driving baseline layup with 18.6 seconds left that put Miami ahead to stay. Rockets guard Jeremy Lin followed by air-balling a wide-open 3-point attempt.
James finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and teammate Chris Bosh added 24 points and 10 boards. Dwyane Wade had 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds to complete the Big Three's dominance.
The Rockets drilled 12 3-pointers, five from Chandler Parsons (25 points). James Harden paired 22 points with five assists for the Rockets, but he missed two isolation jumpers against, ironically, sticky defense.
What the Rockets (2-3) started with their 33-point second quarter they continued in the third, shooting 11-for-23 from the floor (including 4-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc) to scorch the Heat for 33 additional points. The Rockets managed their first lead at 70-69 when Carlos Delfino drilled an open 3-pointer with 5:03 remaining in the third, and Delfino stroked another open 3-pointer 32 seconds later.
Houston's perimeter proficiency was predicated on the Rockets' earlier dominance in the paint combined with a willingness to attack the rim. By the close of the third quarter, Houston held a plus-17 margin in free-throw attempts, and three minutes into the fourth, it built the lead to 94-86, capping a span of 75 points over 27 minutes of game action.
The Heat connected on 10 of 13 shots after an 0-for-2 start. Bosh dominated his matchup with Rockets center Omer Asik by taking full advantage of his quickness, scoring 10 points as the Heat almost effortlessly opened a 22-5 lead midway through the first quarter.
Harden keyed a 14-3 Rockets run that closed the quarter, with the guard scoring seven consecutive points in advance of an Asik dunk. Harden added a 3-pointer just prior to the buzzer, slicing Houston's deficit to 25-19 and setting the tone for a second quarter full of runs.
Wade worked in concert with Bosh to help Miami establish control early, and his burst in the second period pushed the Heat's advantage back to double digits. However, the Rockets had figured out where the Heat were most susceptible, with Asik and Patrick Patterson routinely attacking the paint. When the former fed the latter for a dunk with 5:42 left in the half, the Rockets pulled within 39-37.
Harden and Asik combined for 29 first-half points, helping offset the 33 points Wade and Bosh posted. Patterson offered something the Heat failed to manage: a third double-digit scorer in the first half. His 10 points and six rebounds allowed the Rockets to trail just 56-52 at intermission.
NOTES: In their second meeting against the Rockets as Heat teammates, on March 27, 2011, James (33 points, 10 rebounds), Bosh (31 points, 12 rebounds) and Wade (30 points, 11 rebounds) became the first trio of teammates to record 30-point, 10-rebound double-doubles in regulation since Feb. 3, 1961. The feat was previously accomplished by Wayne Embry (37-13), Jack Twyman (32-17) and Oscar Robertson (31-11) for the Cincinnati Royals against the Philadelphia Warriors. ... On Dec. 29, 2010, Wade matched Toyota Center's single-game record for points by a visiting player, 45. He shot 17-for-24 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the foul line. Carmelo Anthony also scored 45 points for the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Center on March 15, 2010. ... Of the four times the Rockets have tied their single-game franchise low for points (66), two have come against the Heat: Feb 9, 2010, at Miami, and Dec. 12, 1996, in Houston.