The Miami Heat survived a big night from Kobe Bryant thanks in large part to a gutsy play from Jermaine O’Neal.
O’Neal stood his ground with 18.7 seconds left in overtime and took a charge from Bryant — who was whistled for an offensive foul — as the Heat topped the Los Angeles Lakers 114-111 in the NBA’s wildest back-and-forth game this season.
There were 19 ties and 31 lead changes, two more than any game in the league in 2009-10, and Miami’s centre stood tallest at the end.
“He was there. He stepped up,” said Dwyane Wade, who led the Heat with 27 points and 14 assists. “I saw it coming the whole way. That’s J.O. — J.O. not only protects the basket by being a shot blocker, but he also protects it because he can take charges. And that’s great. Everybody did their job tonight.”
Bryant went left, looking for a layup that would have tied the game. Instead, O’Neal drew his team-best 19th charge of the season, Carlos Arroyo hit two free throws 0.3 seconds later to make it a two-possession game and Miami held on, winning back-to-back home games for the first time since mid-January.
Quentin Richardson scored a season-high 25 points for the Heat, who got 17 from Arroyo, 13 from O’Neal and a 12-point, 11-rebound effort from Udonis Haslem.
“We have big-moment, big-player type guys that love to step up to a big challenge like this and aren’t afraid of the moment,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Obviously, Dwyane is like that, Jermaine is like that. Udonis, Quentin will hit big shots. A lot of times it’s a fight and an argument to see who’s going to shoot the ball. They’re not running from it. They want the moment.”
Elsewhere in the NBA it was: Memphis 105 Chicago 96; and Utah 116 Phoenix 108.
At Miami, Bryant scored 39 points, including the overtime-forcing jumper for the Lakers, who got 14 points from Derek Fisher and 13 points and 11 rebounds from Lamar Odom.
It wasn’t the offensive foul late that seemed to raise the ire of Lakers coach Phil Jackson but rather a foul call that he thought Bryant earned against Wade with a half-minute left in regulation and Los Angeles up by one.
Bryant shot what was ruled an airball; the Lakers insisted Bryant was fouled. Instead, Richardson came down and hit a three-pointer to put Miami up 99-97 with 11.1 seconds left in regulation.
“I’m sure he didn’t shoot an airball. That’s unconscionable that that call can’t be made at that point in the game, because that’s a shooter and there it is,” Jackson said. “But they didn’t call it and he had to do another miracle to come back and tie the game. But in the overtime, we had our chances.”
Back at .500 now at 31-31, the Heat moved 1 1/2 games clear of Charlotte in the race for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race and within 1 1/2 games of Toronto for the No. 5 spot. Plus, they beat the Lakers at home for the sixth time in the last eight meetings in Miami.
Win or lose, Miami was going to stay in the No. 8 seed after Thursday. But clearly, this one meant a little something extra to the Heat, who hadn’t won back-to-back games at home since mid-January.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit at home this season,” Richardson said. “So you know, for us to beat the Lakers in here to start off this little bit of a stand we have, that’s good.”
Miami led by nine with nine minutes remaining in regulation, and still held a 92-84 edge when Wade hit a three-pointer with 3:40 remaining.
The defending champion Lakers weren’t fazed.
They answered with a 9-2 run, capped by Fisher’s three-pointer from the left corner with 1:56 left in regulation, and from there turned almost exclusively to Bryant. He made two free throws in the final minute to give Los Angeles a 97-96 lead, and after Richardson put Miami up 99-97 with his seventh three-pointer of the night with 11.1 seconds remaining, the stage was Bryant’s.
Naturally, he delivered, just as he did with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Miami at Staples Center earlier this season.
He drove right on Wade, pulled up and coolly made a jumper with 3.3 seconds left. And when Wade couldn’t get a good look at the buzzer, to overtime it went, knotted at 99.
It was tied five more times in the extra session, and Haslem’s jumper with 37.3 seconds left put Miami up 111-109.
From there, Miami found a way.
“We just couldn’t get stops,” Bryant said. “We basically traded baskets to start the overtime. We didn’t execute well defensively. They made big plays, too.”
Grizzlies 105 Bulls 96
At Chicago, Zach Randolph scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, and Memphis rallied from a big first-half deficit to beat the Bulls.
After trailing by 17 in the second quarter, the Grizzlies tied it in the third and finally took control with an 8-0 run late in the fourth that gave them a 97-90 lead.
O.J. Mayo scored 10 of his 20 points in the final quarter. Rudy Gay finished with 17 points as the Grizzlies extended their franchise-record road win streak to six and sent Chicago to its third straight loss.
Jazz 116 Suns 108
At Phoenix, Deron Williams scored 13 of his 27 points during a 41-point fourth quarter, Mehmet Okur added 24 of his own as Utah rallied from a 12-point final period deficit to beat the Suns.
The Jazz trailed 98-86 early in the fourth quarter, then reeled off 12 straight points, capped by a three-pointer by Okur to tie the game.
They took the lead for good on a three-pointer by Williams with 1:36 remaining that made it 109-106.
The game was reminiscent of the teams’ first meeting this season when the Jazz came back from a 17-point deficit and defeated the Suns 124-115.