Erik Spoelstra expected a strong response from Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies after the Heat went into their building Friday night, took advantage of a short-handed lineup on a minutes restriction and put an end to their six-game winning streak.
He was right.
Behind a season-high 28 points from Gasol and 11 fourth quarter points from point guard Mike Conley, who finished with 21 points, the Grizzlies salvaged the second night of a back-to-back against the Heat in a thrilling 110-107 victory that featured 13 lead changes at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“You've got to tip your hat to that team,” Spoelstra said of the Grizzlies, who are coached by former Heat assistant and Spoelstra’s close friend David Fizdale. “Every time they've been in a close game they've found a way to gut it out and get a win. That was back and forth. And you just have to give them credit. They made some big plays, big shots going down the stretch.”
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Dion Waiters poured in a season-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. But the Heat (5-11) couldn’t get the ball back in his hands to take the final shot. Josh Richardson did and missed a three-pointer shortly before the buzzer sounded, dropping the Heat to 2-6 at home.
Miami entered Saturday night’s game 3-0 when it scored 100 points, but 0-9 when it went into the fourth quarter when it didn't have a lead. Those numbers are now 3-1 and 0-10, respectively.
The teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 82 before Conley took over late. The $153 million point guard drove to the basket with two minutes to play, hit a layup and drew a foul on Hassan Whiteside to extend the Grizzlies lead to 105-100. Moments later, Conley buried a three-pointer to extend Memphis’ lead to 108-101 with 1:25 remaining.
Whiteside finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. The Heat had seven players score in double figures. Richardson had 15 points and five assists and Tyler Johnson added 12 points off the bench.
“I felt fine,” Richardson of the Heat’s final look at the basket. “The draw up was for a flair to the corner and they both closed out on me so I dribbled up looked for an open man and it was Rodney [McGruder]. He was going to shoot it, but the man played good defense and threw it back to me. In the future, you want to make big shots like that. I might as well start taking them now. I thought I got a good look at it.”
With Saturday’s loss, the Heat fell to 2-7 in clutch situations (in a game in which the team that is leading is up by five points or less with under five minutes to go). The Grizzlies, meanwhile, improved to 8-3 in clutch situations.
“Even though we're a young team it doesn’t matter at the end of the day,” Waiters said. “It's about getting stops and putting your hard hat on when it counts. That's a veteran team over there that knows how to win and we're still trying to figure it out. We've just got to continue to keep moving forward and let this be a learning step for us again -- how to execute down the stretch and make the right plays.”
Waiters started off red hot. He scored nine points in the first quarter as the Heat made 9 of its first 14 shots and built a 31-24 lead after the first quarter.
After being held scoreless in the second quarter, he went back to work, scoring eight in the third quarter and then 11 in the fourth quarter. But like his 27-point effort at San Antonio earlier this year, it wasn’t enough to propel the Heat to a win.
“I don't care about no stats – none of that,” Waiters said. “I want to win. Last year in the Western Conference Finals we were 24 minutes away from the Finals. I want to get back to that. There's nothing like that -- that atmosphere in the playoffs. There's nothing like that. That's why I'm going out here, putting my soul, putting my body on the line for that man because I really care for that.”
Said Fizdale of Waiters: “He is a nightmare. The guy is so crafty with the dribble. He can shoot the three. He is so physically strong.”
Gasol, who only had nine points on 4 of 11 shooting Friday night in the Heat's 90-81 in Memphis, scored 19 of his 28 points in the first half. He was often a handful Whiteside, who switched off him in the second half as Spoelstra put his power forwards on Gasol, who was out on the perimeter shooting jumpers. Gasol ended up with six assists.
“It shows you what a great player can do,” Spoelstra said. “He adjusted and adapted. He did it all over the court. He was doing it early in the post, hitting jumpers from the post, getting it into the paint. Then he was spacing and playing off the ball. Then his pick-and-rolls to flaring and making a lot of plays off that. That was an exhibition for a center to make that many plays against different types of defenses too. It was not one guy guarding him. There were a lot of complex things that were involved in that.”