Miami Heat has become clutch in crunch time

Gone are the days of the Heat fumbling away games late. ‘It’s come a long way from our first year together to now,’ LeBron James said.

01/25/2013 12:01 AM

09/23/2013 6:52 PM

Two seasons ago, the Heat’s late-game play was a source of mockery, derision and delight to Heat haters. With every late-game miss by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the groans became louder, the criticism sharper.

And now?

With Ray Allen joining forces with the Big 3, no team in the league has been more efficient in clutch time. Wednesday’s overtime victory against Toronto raised the Heat’s record to 9-3 in games that either went to overtime or ended with a margin of five points or less.

Conversely, the Heat was 9-12 in such games in 2010-11, the first season of the Big 3 era.

“It’s come a long way from our first year together to now,” James said Thursday. “It’s trust, execution, guys being in the right spot at the right time.”

The Heat’s late-game efficiency numbers are impressive, but even more so when compared to the previous two seasons.

Consider:

• In the last five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer, the Heat has outscored opponents by 59 points in 95 minutes. That’s the best in the league, topping No. 2 Golden State, which is plus-52 in 101 minutes. By contrast, the Lakers have been outscored by 42 points in 59 “clutch” minutes.
• In the last five minutes of close games, the Heat has a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (48 to 18), is shooting 51.6 percent from the field, second-best to the Clippers’ 52.7, and 35.1 percent on three-pointers, which ranks eighth. Last season, Miami shot 43 percent overall in that situation.

“It’s taken years” to get to this point, Bosh said.

• If you shrink the sample size to the last minute of games in which the Heat was tied or trailed by three or fewer, Miami is outscoring teams by 18 points in 10 minutes that fit that description, according to NBA.com. Two seasons ago, the Heat was outscored by 15 in that scenario.

Wade said one key is the Heat is creating better shots late in games than it did in the past.

“We’re getting great shots because we’re getting more comfortable in our sets and our package late in games,” said Wade, who scored nine points in Wednesday’s overtime. As far as play calls, “we like doing what we know. And out of it, we have more than one option.”

During the last five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer, James is shooting 45 percent, on par with his 44 and 45 percent the past two seasons, but his assists are way up and his rebounding numbers are exceptional.

“We do a good job late in games putting the ball in LeBron’s hands because he can see over the defense,” Wade said. “In other games, we switch it and put the ball in my hands a lot to make plays.”

Wade, meanwhile, is shooting 53 percent from the field in the last five minutes with a margin of five or fewer, compared with 40 and 42 percent the previous two seasons.

And Bosh is shooting 88 percent, 14 for 16 from the field, well ahead of his 47 and 55 percent the past two seasons.

Allen’s value in clutch time cannot be underestimated. He is shooting 55 percent in that late-game, five-minute sample size: 6 for 6 on two-pointers and 10 for 23 on threes, including several that tied the score or put the Heat ahead. Allen shot 36 and 46 percent in the “clutch” for Boston the past two seasons.

“What makes him special is it doesn’t matter at all what type of game he has going into clutch time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s going [to] space the floor for you and attack his open shots with incredible confidence.”

The only Heat player who has shot poorly in the clutch? Mario Chalmers, who is 2 for 11 but has made several big late-game shots in his Heat career.

This and that

• In the wake of Wade scoring a season-high 35 points, Spoelstra noted that he is “putting in more time than I’ve ever seen him put in behind the scenes. Two days ago, we had an 11 a.m. practice. He was in before 9, doing his full leg and preparation workout.”
• Spoelstra said he “was hoping” to use Chris Andersen against Toronto but did not, and playing him “has to happen naturally.”
• Kansas announced that it will retire Chalmers’ No. 15 jersey at halftime of its game against Texas on Feb. 16.

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