Tyler Johnson didn’t get many opportunities during his first two seasons with the Heat to take shots in crunch time.
“We knew where the ball was going,” Johnson pointed out Tuesday night after he scored nine points in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime to help lift the Heat to a 108-96 overtime victory over the Kings.
“This year, it’s whatever matchup we can exploit.”
For years, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra trusted one man more than any other in clutch situations. Now, with Dwyane Wade back home in Chicago, Spoelstra is figuring out who he can rely on when defenses tighten up and the game is on the line.
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On Tuesday against the Kings, point guard Goran Dragic, shooting guard Dion Waiters, forward Justise Winslow and Johnson, who has served in the role of sixth man, all took turns taking and making clutch shots over the final five minutes of regulation and then in overtime.
Dragic, who led the Heat with 25 points, made a pair of threes in overtime — one to start the extra period and one to finish it.
Winslow, who finished 1 of 4 in the clutch with three assists, made a driving layup with 3:41 left in overtime to put the Heat in front 96-94.
Waiters, who finally broke out of some early shooting struggles with 20 points, made a 20-foot step-back jumper to tie the score at 91 with 34.5 seconds to play and then took and missed the Heat’s last shot of regulation, a 22-footer with 10.8 seconds remaining and the score tied.
And, finally, Johnson was 3 of 4 from the field, made a tough, reverse layup to tie the score at 89 with 1:03 left in regulation, and then hit a runner in the lane and a three-pointer in overtime to help turn a two-point lead into a seven-point advantage.
“That’s the beauty of this sport — you never know who is going to take the shot,” said Dragic, who after going 14 of 31 in clutch situations last season, including the playoffs, leads the Heat with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting in clutch situations this season.
“Some nights Dion is going to have the best matchups or me or Tyler. Dion had a good look [at the end of regulation], he missed it, but we encourage him to keep shooting because we need him to be aggressive and to make plays. Because then it’s so much easier for me, for Tyler, for Hassan [Whiteside]. His ability to break down guys and get inside the paint, he can make a lot of plays.”
Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s game that the Heat was working through who to go to in the clutch and that he didn’t necessarily think the ball would “go to one guy.”
“What we do have right now is a lot of guys that can attack and make plays,” Spoelstra said. “The game may dictate how that’s played out in the fourth quarter. Those things you have to go through it. You can plan and talk as much as we do behind the scenes, but you have to go through it ultimately, and the team will let you know.”
Wade took 101 of the Heat’s 298 clutch shots in the regular season (33.8 percent) last year and then 29 of Miami’s 65 clutch shots in the playoffs (44.6 percent).
When you add up the number of clutch shots Dragic (14 of 31, 45.1 percent), Winslow (10 of 22, 45.4 percent) and Johnson (4 of 6, 66.7 percent) took last season with the Heat and then the ones Waiters (9 of 27, 33.3 percent) attempted last season when he was teammates with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, it’s still 44 fewer clutch shots taken (130) and 24 fewer than Wade made (61) last season.
“It’s just going to take some time,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a process. We’ve got to do a lot of those things and learn as we go.”