MIAMI, Fla. -- Playoffs in December? The holiday monochromatic uniforms said otherwise.
The early technical fouls on LeBron James and Kevin Durant, though, spoke volumes.
As did Shane Battier's fourth-quarter chase-down foul on Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade's ensuing double-technical faceoff with Serge Ibaka.
Last season's championship chase began for the Miami Heat with a Christmas Day blowout of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
This season's wakeup call may also have come on Christmas Day, with this 103-97 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat finally finding their motivation after two months of home games, shorthanded opponents, and, frankly, minimal effort required to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference.
"It felt a little bit like a different month," coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"It was one of those late-June kind of games," Wade added.
There aren't many of these on the marathon NBA schedule, one that's about 30 games too long and includes the Heat's impending road diet of Bobcats, Pistons, Bucks and Magic.
Players appreciate as much. So they pick their spots.
Well, everyone but LeBron, who turns every game into a crusade, who gets out of bed on game days with 20 points and goes from there, this time with 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Of course, not everyone can be like that.
But put the Thunder in front of Mario Chalmers and he becomes NBA Finals Mario Chalmers, as if back in last season's Game 4.
And Wade shows the hop in his step he has been holding in reserve since his July arthroscopic knee surgery.
There was a reason the Heat listed Sunday's attendance at a record 20,300, most ever in AmericanAirlines Arena for basketball, regular season or postseason.
This is what the fans and, more importantly, the Heat have been waiting for.
"This," center Chris Bosh said of Christmas, "is when things, I think, really start to pick up."
And in Tuesday's moment of truth, the Heat showed that last season, and not two seasons ago, most closely resembles the identity of this team.
Left in scramble mode after the Thunder had scrambled back from an early 12-point deficit to within one, with the ball in James' hands, the first option was denied by the Thunder, as was the second.
So the Heat kept working through the play. No hero ball from LeBron. But also James not shying from the moment.
And then, in a split second, Bosh broke free beneath the rim, and three seasons of chemistry led to the pass that led to the dunk that effectively ended it.
No panic. Just cohesion. Championship cohesion.
"That wasn't what we designed," Spoelstra said, "but you have to find a way, you have to improvise. Our poise going down the stretch of close games has gotten much better over the last two and a half years."
If a single play crystallized what began a year ago Christmas in Dallas, this was it.
"It's a bunch of trial and error," Bosh said of getting to this point, that moment. "Through everything, you learn how to play off one another."
Wade watched. Smiled a knowing grin. Then saw Bosh and Ray Allen make five consecutive free throws to put it away, with the Heat closing 19 of 19 from the line.
"It's the evolution of this team," Wade said of the play that led to Bosh's dunk.
For the Heat, it cannot be understated how necessary this was. Overcoming the adversity of the Thunder attempting 38 free throws to the Heat's 19, showing the poise in the face of five total technical fouls.
"When you get two alpha dogs in this league together," Battier said, "the Adrenaline pumps a little harder, no doubt about that."
Spoelstra wanted that Adrenaline. Knew his team needed it.
Asked before the game about James having gone the previous six games without a foul, Spoelstra addressed the subject hardly as a badge of honor.
"I want him aggressive," he said. "I want him making plays. It is tough to consistently do that if you are not fouling."
So LeBron fouled three times, probably could have been called for more, and Durant still went for 33 points for the Thunder.
But because Chalmers stepped up with 20 points while playing without a single turnover, the Heat were able to meet this challenge.
"The thing for us," Chalmers said, "is to keep going."
And with that, the Heat headed off into the Christmas night for Charlotte, with flights to Detroit, Milwaukee and Orlando to followi in coming days, places where motivation could be hard to find.
That's why this game mattered so much. Because NBA statements are hard to come by before April, May or June.
On Christmas evening, the Heat made one.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel