Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 3/8/12
MIAMI -- It was another down-to-the wire game for LeBron James. But this time he might have managed to avoid all controversy. James didn't have to worry about whether to pass or shoot. In fact, all he had to do was watch. His Miami Heat trailed by three with just over three minutes left Wedneday night at AmericanAirlines Arena before coming back to beat Atlanta 89-86. In his final 5:25 on the floor, James didn't have any points or assists, his only stat being a missed jumper with 5:08 left. OK, there still might be those who will try to find a way to criticize James for not taking charge at the end. If so, give it a rest. James totaled 31 points and 11 rebounds, being close to a Heat one-man show for much of the game. And when it was time to close it out, James actually didn't need to since a pair of big guys re-emerged. After starting out shooting 1-of-12, forward Chris Bosh hit a hook with 3:02 left to close the gap to 80-79 and made a 19-foot jumper with 33.5 seconds remaining to give the Heat an 85-81 lead. Forward Udonis Haslem has been struggling with his shot all season. But he drilled a 16-foot jumper with 1:07 left that had given Miami an 83-80 lead. Then he threw down a beautiful alley-oop dunk on a pass from Dwyane Wade with 12 seconds remaining that made it 87-84. Of course, it was Haslem who missed a wide-open jumper just before the buzzer last Friday at Utah, enabling the Jazz to win 99-98. James was criticized for passing rather than taking the shot himself. That game came on the heels of James trying to pass and turning the ball over in a last-second situation in the Feb. 26 All-Star Game. And, yes, for the first time in NBA history, strategy was questioned after an All-Star Game. "He's going to be criticized almost no matter what, and it's unfortunate," Haslem said of James. "Last year, he made the pass to Eddie House at Oklahoma City (in a 108-103 win Jan. 30, 2011) down the stretch and Eddie House knocked down the three and we were fortunate to win the game, and he still was cricitized. It was still talked about, should he have passed, should he have not. Unforunately, for him he can't really do no right. It sucks, I guess." But everything turned out OK on Wednesday for the Heat even if somebody might try to find a way to nitpick about James' game. For what it's worth, Wade had assists on all three of Miami's final buckets, the two by Haslem and the jumper by Bosh, and also hit two foul shots with 2.7 seconds left to account for the final score. As for James, much of his action was confined to the third quarter, when he had 10 points and showed great restraint against Atlanta goon Zaza Pachulia. The quarter saw Pachulia fouling James unnecessarily hard going down the floor and in the final minute hitting James in the head when he was on the floor, getting a personal and a technical foul. "I don't get baited into it," James said. "I know Zaza and I understand the type of game he plays I like physical play anyway. Obviously, there is a borderline between physical and then the other extra stuff I stopped playing football a long time ago but I still have football traits." Overall, though, it took a while for the Heat to stop getting pushed around by the Hawks. After trailing 65-55, Miami went on a 13-0 run to take a 68-65 lead late in the third quarter. The stretch saw the Heat playing some of their best defense of the season, forcing four turnovers. "We know what we're capable of," said Bosh, who grabbed eight rebounds and had a block and a steal to help make up for shooting 3-of-14 for nine points. "We rely on our defense." Haslem sure helped in that regard, getting four steals. But prior to the waning moments, he had just four points on the night. Haslem had entered the game averaging 6.0 points and shooting 40.6 percent, both on pace to be the worst marks of his nine-year career. Haslem attributes some of his struggles to missing much of last season due to a foot injury, and now having a different role in the offense due to the Heat having picked up James and Bosh in the summer of 2010. "I went back to the basics," Haslem said of putting in extra work. "I know I can shoot the ball. Everybody here knows I can shoot the ball." James knows since he passed to him at Utah. But at least Haslem on Wednesday was able to knock down a late jumper from a similar spot. "It felt good," Haslem said. So did the alley-oop. Wade said it was like "old times" from the days he and Haslem used to hook up well before there was a Big Three. In the end, Heat were able to win a close game for the first time since they beat Chicago 97-93 on Jan. 29. But most of the reason they hadn't won a tight one for so long was because they've mainly been wiping out foes, having entered the Utah game with a nine-game winning streak, all coming by 12 or more points. This also was a close game that was controversy free for James. Then again, somebody somewhere probably will find something to needle him about. Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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