TORONTO – Back where their winning streak started on Super Bowl Sunday, the Miami Heat kept rolling right into March Madness.
Now it’s on to Boston to face the rival Celtics – the team who ended the last streak this long.
The Heat equaled the second-longest winning streak in NBA history, pulling away in the fourth quarter Sunday to beat the Toronto Raptors, 108-91, for their 22nd consecutive victory.
“It’s a special ride right now that we’re on,” LeBron James said. “The best thing about it is we’re doing it together.”
James had 22 points and 12 rebounds for his career-best 32nd double-double of the season, Dwyane Wade had 24 points and nine assists, and Ray Allen scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter for the defending NBA champions.
Chris Bosh finished with 18 points as the Heat matched the 22 consecutive wins recorded by the 2007-08 Houston Rockets. The NBA’s longest streak is 33 games, set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Miami will try to move into sole possession of second today when it visits the Celtics – who ended the Rockets’ run five years ago and have won 11 in a row at home.
“If there’s any group that would be motivated in a circumstance like this, it’s that team in green,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t know if the streak will be a big factor but they love playing against us, and vice versa. That’s what happens when you meet a team consecutively in the playoffs. There’s a history there, and that’s what makes these games special.”
The Heat have faced the Celtics twice so far this season. They blew out Boston 120-107 in Miami on opening night, then lost 100-98 in double-overtime on the road Jan. 27, the day Boston learned that Rajon Rondo needed knee surgery.
“They played better than us for a large part of that game,” Spoelstra said.
Winners of two straight, the Celtics may be without veteran forward Kevin Garnett today. The 15-time All-Star sat out Saturday’s victory over Charlotte with a strained left thigh and is day-to-day.
“We have to treat them with the respect they deserve,” Spoelstra said. “Regardless of who plays for them, that’s a team that will come out with an incredible amount of urgency.”
Wade called the looming matchup with Boston “a great challenge.”
“I think we’ll be ready for it,” he said. “We’ve got to get our rest and we’ve got to know we’re going to have a dog fight on our hands.”
Heat forward Shane Battier, who played on the 2007-08 Rockets, inspired his teammates with a speech after their Feb. 3 win over Toronto. The 11-year veteran spoke again after Sunday’s victory, an address that Spoelstra called “passionate” and “pure.”
“Coach Riley gets paid close to six figures for his speeches,” Spoelstra said, referring to former Heat coach and current team president Pat Riley. “I don’t know what Shane should charge now, but he should get something.”
Miami blew it open Sunday behind Allen’s 3-point shooting after Toronto tied it at 77 early in the fourth quarter.
“Those (3-pointers) are what we feared for so many years (when Allen was with Boston),” Spoelstra said. “He can turn a game around just like that.”
Toronto is the third team with multiple losses to the Heat during the streak. Miami has beaten Philadelphia three times and Atlanta twice.
“You talk about a well-oiled machine, those guys are efficient both offensively and defensively,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They do it in a classy way. They are well put together.”
Rudy Gay scored 27 and Amir Johnson had 18 points and 18 rebounds as the Raptors lost their 11th straight against Miami, extending their longest active losing streak against a single opponent.
“We just ran out of gas,” Johnson said.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 18 points, and Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan each had 12 for the Raptors, whose last victory over the Heat was a 111-103 home win on Jan. 27, 2010 – when Bosh still played for Toronto and James was in Cleveland.
Toronto tied it at 77 on a pair of free throws by Gay less than a minute into the fourth but, even with James on the bench, Miami answered immediately. Allen hit a jumper, Norris Cole threw a half-court lob pass to Wade for an alley-oop dunk and Allen made a 3-pointer, giving Miami an 84-77 lead.
“It was a perfect pass,” Wade said. “I don’t really show a lot of emotions nowadays too much, but I got a little pumped up after that one.”
After a Raptors timeout, Chris Andersen converted a three-point play and Wade made two free throws, capping a 12-0 run that put the Heat up 89-77 with 7:42 left.
James scored eight points and Bosh had seven in the first and Miami closed the quarter with an 8-2 run to lead 27-19 after one.
A layup from Bosh gave Miami a 49-33 lead with 2:37 left in the half. Toronto closed the gap with a 6-0 run, but a 3 by James with less than 3 seconds left put the Heat up 55-43 at the break.
Miami called timeout at 6:49 of the third after a layup by DeRozan cut it to 66-59, but Bosh answered with a 3 from the corner, restoring Miami’s double-digit advantage.
Toronto fought back again in the final minutes of the third. After a dunk by Gay, DeRozan converted a three-point play with 1:52 left, making it 76-69. DeRozan, who missed 10 of his first 12 shots, made two jumpers in the final 1:14 as the Raptors cut it to 76-73 heading into the fourth.
NOTES: James narrowly missed a triple-double, finishing with eight assists. ... The Raptors outrebounded the Heat 51-26. ... Toronto has lost five straight home meetings with Miami. ... Former Raptor Morris Peterson attended the game.