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 hardly could be considered passable.
Miami is ranked second in offensive efficiency for a reason, though, 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.
"How did anybody ever question him looking back on it now in big moments," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "This guy is the ultimate competitor. He gets absolutely amplified in these situations, and you can see him coming to life. He's done it over and over again. We don't take it for granted.
"He's the best player in the game, but he does it in the most important moments. And that's what makes him special."
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.
Following a quiet six-point first half, James finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Miami's Chris Bosh added 24 points, including two critical free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining following an offensive rebound, and 10 boards. Dwyane Wade had 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds to complete the Big Three's dominance.
Bosh and Wade carried the Heat early. James served as the closer.
"Coach ran a play for me right out the half, and I was able to get it going a little bit," said James, who hit 12 of 20 shots after intermission. "I think my team needed me to score a little bit more tonight. I just tried to take that challenge."
The Rockets drilled 12 3-pointers, five from Chandler Parsons, who scored a career-high 25 points. James Harden paired 22 points with five assists for the Rockets, but he missed two late isolation attempts against, ironically, sticky defense. The Heat opened the game 25th in defensive efficiency.
What the Rockets (3-4) 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. Delfino stroked another open 3-pointer 32 seconds later.
"Making the right, easy pass," Harden said in identifying the Rockets' success offensively. "Our turnovers were down. Guys were just giving the ball up early, so as long as we continue our flow, we should be good."
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.
Harden and Houston center Omer Asik combined for 29 first-half points, helping offset the 33 points Wade and Bosh posted before the break. 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.
"That was a tough fight where both teams were just fighting," Rockets interim coach Kelvin Sampson said. "They got the last punch in, and I'm disappointed that we lost."
NOTES: Spoelstra earned his 200th career victory, improving his coaching mark to 200-120. ... 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.