Could anybody have seen this coming? Anybody? Anybody at all?
Short answer: Not a chance.
A Heat team that lost 30 of its first 41 games not only won its fourth in a row Monday, but did it with a stunning 105-102 victory against a steamrolling Golden State juggernaut that entered not only having won seven in a row, but having annihilated teams (including Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Houston) by an average of 22.6 points over its past five.
After Kevin Durant tied the game with a driving dunk, Dion Waiters won it with a 25-foot three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left. Steph Curry badly missed a desperation corner three at the buzzer.
Waiters, remarkably, tied his career high in points (33) for the second game in a row.
“I wanted to get everyone space. He read that beautifully,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Waiters’ game-winning shot. “He wasn’t going to give that up to anyone else. He’s fearless. He’s not scared. He wants those moments as much as anybody. He took it into his own hands.”
“Those are the moments you live for,” Waiters said after the game. “I was thinking that was the moment I practiced as a kid. I am not going to shy away from those shots.”
The Warriors might have the NBA’s best backcourt (Curry/Klay Thompson), but Waiters was the best guard in this game, hitting two three-pointers in the final 1:33. Waiters shot 13 for 20, including 6 for 8 on threes. He scored 13 points in the third quarter and 11 in the fourth.
“I felt I was getting into a good groove before the injury,” Waiters said of a groin strain that sidelined him 20 games. “I’m in a zone right now. Most important, having coaches believe in me. [Spoelstra] is on me hard a lot. I need that. I had [Syracuse coach Jim] Boeheim. Nothing [tougher] than that.”
Curry (21 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 turnovers) and Thompson (22 points) weren’t as lethal as usual, Curry shooting 7 for 19 and 3 for 9 on threes, and Thompson 8 for 18 overall. Durant led Golden State with 27 points, but shot 1 for 8 on threes.
With Goran Dragic (5 for 14) scoring 19, the Heat’s starting guards outscored the Warriors’, 52-43.
The Warriors, who entered shooting 38.7 percent on threes, made just 26.7 percent (8 of 30).
“On offense, we’re hitting on all cylinders,” Waiters said.
And the Heat did this without a big offensive night from Hassan Whiteside, who was held to only 10 points on 4 for 13 shooting but grabbed 15 rebounds.
“You have to have a presence like Hassan … that will impose his will in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “He is really learning how to impact winning and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the final stat line.”
An 18-8 run, including a three-point play by Okaro White and five points from Luke Babbitt, put the Heat ahead 98-88 with 4:03 left.
“You had a feeling they were going to make a run,” Spoelstra said of the Warriors.
They did, erasing all of that lead with the Durant dunk on a baseline drive.
And then Waiters won it.
“The close games are starting to become our comfort zone,” Spoelstra said. “You can see our guys are gaining more confidence in these games.”
Are they a different team?
“I don’t know if we are,” Spoelstra said. “We’re not just basing it on the result.”
Waiters put it this way: “If you play against Miami, you know it won’t be a walk.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team scored 16 points below its season average, said he told Spoelstra “after the game how impressed I am with how hard they play night in and night out. That’s the sign of a well-coached team. Those guys are physical and they get after it. They make everything difficult and they’re smart. They were the smarter and tougher team tonight and that’s why they won. I know their record isn’t great [15-30]. They’ve got a lot of injuries, but they compete every night and that’s what it’s about.
“It’s not like they don’t have players. I mean Whiteside is a load. Dion Waiters was tremendous tonight and Dragic is one of the best point guards in the league. Let’s not forget that they’ve got talent. But it’s the way they play and how hard they play and how hard they compete. That’s what I think makes them a tough out every night.”
TYLER JOHNSON OUT
Heat guard Tyler Johnson missed his second game in a row with a left shoulder strain and said he will not travel with the team Tuesday on a two-game trip to Brooklyn and Chicago.
He said he will undergo further evaluations Tuesday but he said he doesn’t believe the injury is serious and will not need surgery.
“I still think it’s day to day,” he said. “It’s not so much pain. More irritation.”