Things finally started to make sense again in the second half on Monday night during the Heat’s 119-108 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers.
For about 72 hours over the weekend there was nothing but confusion and the unknown for the Heat. Imagine this scenario: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra actually shook hands for the first time with new point guard Goran Dragic on Saturday morning, and then drove directly to the hospital to sit with Bosh and his family. In those first days, Spoelstra didn’t sleep while Chris Bosh rested in a hospital room receiving treatment for blood clots in his lungs.
Spoelstra is a worrier by nature — the best coaches always are — but this was something new. He couldn’t control this chaos no matter how many times the scenarios ran through his thoughts. So, he just didn’t sleep.
For two days.
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“You couldn’t overlook the fact that when we walked into the gym for shootaround before the New York game that it was all on our minds,” Spoelstra said. “Quite frankly, I didn’t sleep much that night and the night after. All of us were thinking about C.B., and we had to address it as a team.”
Then came Family Fest on Sunday, the annual fundraiser that is one part carnival and one part all-you-can-eat food fest. But how do you eat with Bosh breathing oxygen through a tube? How do you celebrate a family with one of your family members taking injections of blood thinners for pulmonary embolism?
The answer is that you don’t. So, the Heat practiced.
“We spent the last 48 hours trying to work on our offensive continuity, get guys comfortable, and I think we saw improvement in that area, but our defense,” Spoelstra said while rolling his eyes. “We got to try to find some balance on both ends of the court.”
It was an involuntary practice Sunday — after back-to-back games — when everyone in the gym first realized this team still had plenty of fight left in it. On Monday, that team let everyone else know, too.
Like Saturday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the first half was like a pick-up game — not even a hint of defense. The score was tied 61-61 at the break with the Heat shooting 60 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three-point range.
“I actually liked the pace in the first half, but we’re not used to that, so I liked it and enjoyed it, but to win a game you’ve got to get some stops, and Hassan [Whiteside] did a great job of rebounding the ball,” Dwyane Wade said.
Whiteside, the Heat’s 7-foot center, had nine rebounds in the first half and finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds, but it was Chris Andersen who finally decided to guard opposing players in the second half. He pinned the shot of a nameless Sixers’ player against the backboard early in the third quarter and the ball quickly found Dragic in transition. Wade was already on the other end of the court waiting for the ball.
Dragic looked up court and found Wade in stride, who finished the play in transition with a no-frills dunk. No time for artistry on this night. There were more important things to figure out in the team’s second game with its new point guard.
Luol Deng, who had 29 points, said: “Tonight we just had great fast-break opportunities. The ball just fell in the right place. [Dragic] does a good job of pushing the ball.”
Settling with his new team, Dragic pushed the tempo, scored 23 points and had 10 assists.
Yes, it was only the 76ers, and giving up 108 points to this Philadelphia team, with its ever-depreciating lineup, was no masterstroke of resilience, but it was a start — yet another start in a season filled with so many.
Some asked Spoelstra after the game about the Heat’s playbook. Spoelstra just laughed.
“Which playbook?” Spoelstra asked, rhetorically. “We’ve had four or five different playbooks this year.”
The Heat has used 22 different lineups this season. The 76ers, a team which seems to be actively trying to lose games, has used 24 different lineups. Again, the Heat (24-31) began the season wanting stability. The 76ers (12-44) traded arguably their best player away at the trade deadline — guard Michael Carter-Williams.