MIAMI – LeBron James was not at his best, and a game against his former team was slipping away.
Chris Bosh made sure that didn’t happen.
Bosh scored 17 points in the fourth quarter — the biggest final period by any Miami player this season — and finished with a game-high 35 points, carrying the Heat to a 92-85 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Bosh shot 10 for 16 and reached the 30-point mark for the fourth time this season as Miami improved to 4-1 against Cleveland since James joined the Heat.
“Whenever I play and I don’t hesitate, good things happen,” Bosh said.
He was all about the points down the stretch, literally and figuratively. The 17-point final quarter matched the third-best of his career, and he capped the night with a pair of finger-wags — one at one of his shots as it hovered on the rim before falling to begin a three-point play, the other at wife Adrienne after his jumper fell for an 84-76 lead and finally allowed Miami to exhale.
“I think he made the biggest adjustment with this whole situation,” James said, referring to the moves that allowed he, Bosh and Dwyane Wade — who sat out again with a sprained right ankle — to team up in July 2010. “He’s done it before.”
The 35 points matched Bosh’s high since joining Miami.
Kyrie Irving — Cleveland’s No. 1 overall draft pick and heir apparent after James as the face of the Cavs’ franchise — scored 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Samardo Samuels made his first seven shots and finished with 15 points for the Cavs, who got an 11-point, 11-rebound night from Anderson Varejao and 10 points from Ramon Sessions.
“We kind of beat ourselves tonight,” Irving said. “We had 22 turnovers and we lost by seven points.”
Former Cleveland State star Norris Cole scored 10 for Miami, and Udonis Haslem grabbed 10 rebounds for the Heat. Miami committed 18 turnovers, leading to 22 Cleveland points, but found a way — thanks to Bosh — down the stretch.
“Finally in the last three to four minutes, the ball started the move,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Bosh made his sixth three-pointer of the year with 4:26 left, giving the Heat some long-awaited breathing room at 75-67. And after Irving hit a pair of free throws to get Cleveland within three, Bosh went to work again.
He took a pass from James, drove the left side of the lane, got fouled and fell to the court as his shot dropped to set up a three-point play. A minute later, Bosh faked Antawn Jamison into the air and making an 18-footer for an eight-point edge, capped by that salute to his pregnant wife.
Cleveland got within three points twice in the final moments after scores by Irving, but no closer.
“Stayed in the game for 48 minutes,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “And the only thing I’m disappointed in is the fact that we had 22 turnovers. That’s killing our young team.”
Miami improved to 7-1 this season without Wade. His status remains day-to-day.
It was the fifth meeting between the Heat and Cavaliers since James made his decision to switch jerseys. James’ first return to Cleveland was one of the signature moments of last season, and the other three matchups between the clubs — while nowhere near the spectacle of that first game — were accompanied by an extraordinary amount of interest and excitement.
This time, Heat vs. Cavs was just another game. No huge media crush, no extra security presence, no hubbub of any kind.
“I think after a year of kind of going through it, I think it’s just like any other basketball game right now,” Scott said.
So the game lacked the off-the-court buzz.
In fairness, it was missing any on-court buzz, too.
Samuels had a grand total of four baskets in 2012 entering the game, then posted that many dunks in the first half, coming off the bench to start 5 for 5 and help Cleveland leave for the break with a 39-37 lead.
Here’s how offensively troubled the first half was: Cleveland lost two points during intermission.
Following a lengthy review after the teams left the floor, referee Tony Brothers ruled that a basket by Jamison with about 49 seconds left came after the shot clock expired. The basket was wiped away, knotting the game at 37.
Things picked up somewhat in the third, with Irving using a screen to go past James, then leaping through a maze of three Heat defenders for a layup and a 45-43 Cleveland lead. Soon, though, Miami put together its best stretch of the night — a 12-2 run, including James hitting a three-pointer from about 30 feet as the shot clock expired, and ended up taking a less-than-secure 61-58 edge into the final 12 minutes.
The Heat never trailed again.
“It’d have frustrated me a lot if we lost,” James said. “I’m all about team. When I don’t play well and we lose, I feel like I didn’t do enough. But my teammates picked me up.”
NOTES: Cavs rookie Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., missed the game with a sprained left ankle, though is expected to be listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game in Cleveland against New York. … Cleveland returns to Miami Feb. 7, with James’ lone scheduled trip back to his former home building this season set for Feb. 17.