Dwyane Wade made his living with the Miami Heat being one of the league’s best closers in crunch time.
The Heat is still very much trying to find a guy to replace him.
Thursday night, in Wade’s first game back at AmericanAirlines Arena as a member of the Chicago Bulls, the Heat put itself in position late to knockoff the former face of the franchise. But alas, it couldn’t find the hero – or the friendly officiating calls – to lift them over the top.
After drawing a controversial foul call on Justise Winslow with 13.7 seconds remaining, Wade calmly went to the free throw line and sunk the game-clinching free throws in a 98-95 Bulls victory.
“I don’t know if that counts as the storybook [finish] with a foul to get to the free throw line, but he was able to knock those down,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade, who didn’t have the kind of shooting night he wanted (5-of-17 from the field) but finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and the victory against his former team he so badly sought.
“Hey, if that was last year, no, he got pushed out of bounds,” Spoelstra responded when asked if Wade sold the controversial call that went his way. “This year, he’s selling it.”
The Heat (2-5) played valiantly.
Hassan Whiteside had 20 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks and Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson combined for 30 points, nine rebounds and four assists off the bench. But it wasn’t enough for the Heat (2-5), which dropped its third straight game and also lost starting point guard Goran Dragic to a sprained ankle in the process.
Dragic, who twisted his ankle with 4:50 to go in the third quarter when he stepped on Bulls forward Doug McDermott as he tried to accelerate toward the basket, was wearing a boot on his left foot after the game as a precautionary measure. Dragic said x-rays on his foot were negative, but until he wakes up the morning and sees the swelling no one is quite sure how long he’ll be shelved.
“It was pretty painful,” said Dragic, who missed five games with a sprained left ankle during his Third Team All-NBA season in Phoenix three years ago.
The Heat turned to Richardson, Johnson, Winslow and Dion Waiters to handle the point guard duties once Dragic went down and each did an admirable job leading Miami’s offense. But once again, the Heat couldn’t convert in the paint, finishing 19 of 45 (42.2 percent) on attacks near the basket, a continuing problem since Miami scored 74 points in the paint in its season-opening win at Orlando.
The paint struggles off-set a good night from beyond the three-point line. Miami made 13 of 29.
What makes Thursday’s loss even more disappointing for the Heat is that the Bulls (5-4) were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after losing Wednesday night in Atlanta. Miami, which has dropped three straight games to fall to 2-5, has faced three opponents on the second night of a back-to-back but has only won one of those contests.
“We had some good looks down the stretch — we really did,” Spoelstra said. “I think there was a stretch there where we had open looks that we couldn’t capitalize on. Even our fourth quarter execution was much better than a couple of the games earlier. Our guys, they’re plugging away. We’re getting there, getting closer and that’s probably why it’s so disappointing for the guys not to get over the hump.”
The teams went into the half tied at 53 and then the fourth quarter tied at 70 after 18 lead changes and a dozen ties. The Bulls eventually took control in the fourth quarter behind Jimmy Butler, who led Chicago with 20 points, four rebounds and five assists.
Miami had two chances to the score at 92 with under a minute to play. But Johnson and Waiters, who had 16 points, four rebounds and six assists, each missed a pair of open three point looks.
Then, after Richardson buried a three-pointer to trim Chicago’s lead to 94-92 with 14.2 seconds to play, Wade drew the head-scratching foul on Winslow.
On the play, Wade was running toward the sideline to collect the inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo. But after the ball slipped out of Wade’s hands and fell out of bounds, Wade dove toward the seats, making it look like Winslow had bumped him from behind, and Wade got the call.
“I think because of the stage, because of him being back here — I think if he was at another venue, another regular game, they wouldn’t have made that call,” Winslow said. “But it is what it is. I didn’t agree with it.”