The Miami Heat rallied for a 105-100 win over the San Antonio Spurs, who incurred the wrath of NBA Commissioner David Stern by resting four of their best players for this marquee early-season game.
Despite playing without power forward Tim Duncan, point guard Tony Parker, shooting guard Manu Ginobili and swingman Danny Green, the Spurs held a seven-point lead with just under five minutes left in regulation Thursday night at Miami's American Airlines Arena.
The Heat, however, came alive down the stretch and finally took the lead thanks to a 3-pointer by Ray Allen with 23 seconds to go in the contest.
But the game was overshadowed by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich's decision to rest four top players for a much-anticipated match-up against the defending NBA champions.
The coach said the decision was taken in July with the aim of avoiding injury to his veteran players during a stretch of the season that featured six games in nine days, all of them on the road.
The Spurs have another tough game coming up Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies, but Stern was unsympathetic.
"I apologize to all NBA fans," Stern said. "This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
The game figured to be a lopsided contest on paper, especially when the Heat raced to a 16-6 lead.
But the Spurs responded with a 21-6 run to close out the first quarter and then played even with the defending champs until the final minute thanks to a balanced effort led by reserve guard Gary Neal, who scored 20 points and dished out seven assists.
Center Tiago Splitter contributed 18 points and nine rebounds and guard Nando De Colo added 15 points in a losing effort.
The Heat were led by LeBron James, who filled up the box score with 23 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
Dwyane Wade continued to struggle with his shot, but he still ended up with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting and also grabbed five rebounds and handed out five assists.
Allen, the Heat's biggest offseason signing, continued to show his value by scoring 20 points, including the big basket in the final minute. Center Chris Bosh had another solid game with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The Heat improved their record to 11-3, while the Spurs dropped to 13-4.
In one other game Thursday night, the Golden State Warriors eked out a 106-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
In other NBA news, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has been suspended for two games for instigating a brawl during a Wednesday night game at the TD Garden against the Brooklyn Nets. EFE