Friday, as I pulled out of my driveway, I hit "Shuffle Songs" on my iPhone. The first song that came up was "In the Air Tonight," the Phil Collins song the Miami Heat use in their introductions. As I pulled back into my driveway 12 hours later, the last song that played -- still on shuffle -- was "Forever", the Drake/Kanye West/Lil' Wayne/Eminem collaboration that was featured on the soundtrack to the LeBron James documentary "More Than a Game." The random music selection could not have worked out more perfectly for a day that was all about LeBron James.
Madison Square Garden has always brought out the best in LeBron, and Friday was no exception. And while it was his 12th game in the arena, it was something of a day of firsts for him. It was the first time he came out to boos -- not quite to the level they were in Cleveland, but very loud at the outset -- and the first time in quite some time that someone other than James (in this case, Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire) received MVP chants while he was playing at the Garden. But James took all that negative energy and channelled it into performance, as he's done so often this season, and recorded his first official triple-double at the Garden (remember, the league took away a rebound in that 55-9-11 performance a couple years back), finishing with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a blowout win for the Heat, their 11th in a row.
I've seen LeBron and the Heat play in hostile environments twice this season, and both times the fan interaction followed the same formula: they were incredibly loud and against James early, then as he continued to make play after breathtaking play, they crowd got more and more quiet, with the pockets of fans supporting James growing by the minute. The play where it was most noticeable on Friday was the near half-court alley-oop from Wade to James. Because James hadn't touched the ball on the possession, the booing hadn't even started, and when James slammed the ball home, the crowd was simply too impressed to boo.
A big difference Friday, compared to past Heat games, was the level of fan hatred for Chris Bosh, who was the target of the loudest "over-rated" chant I've heard in my life. But Bosh responded well too, and like James and Wade, he said all the right things in the postgame news conference.
What's interesting to me is that while James, Wade and Bosh would never outwardly admit to embracing the villain role (as James alluded to in his "What Should I Do" commercial), it's clear that not only are they fine with hearing the boos from opposing crowds, they use them to make themselves better. And while I, as a fan of LeBron, always enjoyed watching him play in an opposing arena and hearing him cheered, I think I actually take more enjoyment from hearing him demoralize a crowd.
Now the Heat have won 11 in a row, and in most of those wins, they've looked scary good, particularly in the second half. I'm still not sure they're good enough to beat the Celtics or the Lakers in a seven-game series, but help is on the way. Mike Miller was cleared to practice and could play as soon as today. I saw him warming up on the floor before the game, and his shooting stroke certainly hasn't suffered during his absence.