ATLANTA — LeBron James' right knee was hurting. With Dwyane Wade back at the hotel, there was no way the MVP was coming out.
James scored 21 points, including the clinching jumper with 13.6 seconds remaining, and Miami knocked off the Atlanta Hawks 95-89 Friday night for the Heat's fourth straight win.
In the final minute of the first half, James banged knees with Atlanta's Josh Smith. But the Heat star shook off the pain, knowing Miami was already short-handed with Wade sitting out because of a nasty cold.
"It's a little sore right now," James said. "I knew I would get through it. It would take a lot for me not to go back out there with my teammates."
He just missed a triple-double, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out nine assists.
Jeff Teague hit consecutive 3-pointers as the Hawks rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter. But Smith, on an awful night, missed two free throws with just over a minute remaining, and James finished off Atlanta after the teams traded turnovers.
Everyone in the building knew James would shoot at the end. It didn't matter. He muscled away from DeShawn Stevenson, swished a 15-footer and hopped along the sideline in front of the Atlanta crowd.
"I had a pretty good look," James said. "It's just about repetition. It's things that you practice every day."
Chris Bosh led Miami with 24 points, knocking down all 10 of his free throw attempts.
Teague scored 20 points, but the Hawks couldn't overcome a dismal performance by Smith, who also had to cope with a sore knee and all the energy he expended at the defensive end, spending much of his time guarding James.
Smith went 6 of 19 from the field and connected just one time on five attempts from the foul line. Even the one he made was ugly, a banked-in shot late in the first half after he put up an airball on his first attempt.
"I've got to be more efficient. I've got to be better at the free throw line," he said. "I apologize to all my teammates. It was just a poor effort."
Smith knows more is expected of him after the Hawks dealt perennial All-Star Joe Johnson to Brooklyn during the offseason. He refused to blame his knee or the burden of guarding James for his showing.
"Yeah, it's tough giving energy at both ends of the court, but that's not an excuse," Smith said. "I'm supposed to be a leader on this basketball team. From a team standpoint, I like what he did. We fought back. We're going to be good. We're going to get better."
Smith was fouled going for an offensive rebound with 1:05 remaining, sending him to the line with Miami clinging to a 91-89 lead. Both shots clanked off the rim, allowing Miami to escape with another win at less than full strength.
"We kept fighting," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "But this game is about making plays down the stretch, and we didn't come up with enough plays down the stretch. They did."
With the Heat beginning a six-game road trip, coach Erik Spoelstra didn't want to take a chance on Wade's condition worsening or spreading to his teammates.
So the All-Star guard stayed at the hotel. His teammates managed just fine without him.
Mike Miller, who started in place of Wade, scored only four points. But Ray Allen, continuing to fit right in with his new team after leaving Boston, chipped in with 17 off the bench, going 3 of 5 beyond the 3-point arc.
"You have to fight for wins on the road. They never come easy," Spoelstra said. As for Allen, "He's done that over the course of a 17-year career. That was one of the reasons we went after him."
Allen knew he might have to provide more offense, but no major changes were needed to make up for Wade's absence.
"We didn't have to reconfigure who we were going to play," Allen said. "We just had to make sure everybody remained focused."
Through the first three quarters, the game was tight – 25-25 at the end of the first, Atlanta leading 46-42 at the break, the Heat bouncing back for a 72-71 advantage heading to the final period.
Then, it looked as though Miami might pull away. The Heat clamped down on Atlanta defensively, sparking a 10-2 run that provided the biggest lead of the game for either team.
But Teague brought the Hawks back, the second of back-to-back 3s tying the game at 85 with 4:04 remaining. Atlanta actually pulled ahead 87-85 on Al Horford's lay-in, but that was the last hurrah for the home team.
Allen was never concerned.
Not as long as James was on the court, sore knee and all.
"Just stay on your man," Allen said, "and LeBron's going to ice it."
Notes: Rap star T.I. sat in with the Hawks' television broadcast team during the first half. He was tailed around the arena by a camera crew from his VHI reality show. ... Teague also had 11 assists. ... Anthony Morrow gave the Hawks a spark off the bench with 17 points. ... Miami dominated in the lane, outscoring the Hawks 40-26.