Defense has been the Heat’s identity from the start, but the key to this season’s turnaround has been efficiency on offense.
Both failed Miami when it mattered most Monday night.
Led by Seth Curry, the younger brother of two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, Dallas put an end to the Heat’s three-game winning streak and its franchise-record run of 16 consecutive games of at least 100 points with a 96-89 victory at American Airlines Center.
The Heat, which fell 1½ games behind Detroit (28-31) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, led 89-84 with 4:39 remaining. But Miami (27-33) missed its last seven shots and Dallas (24-35) closed the game on a 12-0 run behind Curry, who finished with a game-high 29 points including the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:52 to play.
“We crawled, scratched and clawed to get that five point lead,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team trailed by 11 late in the third quarter before it went on a 20-6 run to grab the lead on a Dion Waiters three-pointer. “We gave up an easy bucket and then coming out of the timeout we had a delay of game. We just didn’t get clean looks after that.”
After Curry scored on a scooping layup over Hassan Whiteside, Waiters started the series of misses for the Heat by missing a 17-footer. Moments later, coming out of a timeout, the Heat was whistled for delay of game when Waiters failed to get over fast enough to make the inbounds pass. Curry went to the free throw line, where Dallas was 21-of-23, and trimmed the Heat’s lead to 89-87 when he swooshed the technical foul shot.
After Wayne Ellington missed a corner three-pointer and Goran Dragic missed a pullup jumper for Miami, Curry buried a shot reminiscent of his brother, a 29-foot three-pointer to give Dallas a 90-89 lead.
“We've shown so much more poise offensively than we did tonight,” Spoelstra said on the Fox Sports Sun broadcast after the game. “Their defense had a lot to say about that. But we didn’t execute with poise and share and execute second and third triggers against a good defense when needed.
“We have a guy the league has missed on,” Spoelstra said referring to Whiteside, who was offered the max by the Mavericks this summer before signing a four-year deal with the Heat for $98 million.
“But I'll tell you what, the league missed on Seth Curry. He’s a heck of a basketball player.”
Once the second-worst scoring team in the league at 98.3 points per game when it had the second-worst record in the league at 11-30, Miami went into Monday’s game in Dallas averaging 109.7 points during its 16-2 sprint back into the playoff race.
Monday, though, the shots weren’t falling with the same ease. After making 13 of its first 18 shots and jumping out to a 31-17 lead, Miami’s early offensive rhythm quickly disappeared when the Mavericks went to a 2-3 zone on the defensive end.
The Heat, which had made at least 13 three-pointers in each of its three previous games, finished 9 of 26 from beyond the arc and shot only 44.6 percent from the field. Miami also missed 7 of its 13 free throw attempts.
But that’s not the reason Dragic said the Heat lost.
“I feel like the whole game we didn’t play well on defense,” said Dragic, who led Miami with 24 points. “It was more of a pickup game and we didn’t use our main key, which is to be more hungry and play good defense.”
Dallas scored 16 second chance points off 11 offensive rebounds and turned 14 Heat turnovers into 17 points. But the Mavericks didn’t take their first lead of the game until Curry hit a jumper and drew a foul on Whiteside with 4:08 remaining in the first half.
Curry and Harrison Barnes, who finished with 24 points, combined to score 53 of points on 19 of 35 shooting for the Mavs, who led 55-54 at the half despite the fact the Heat shot 55 percent over the first two quarters.
Whiteside finished with 19 points and 19 rebounds in 38 minutes. But he was ready to put the loss behind him and was looking ahead to Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, who put an end to the Heat’s NBA season-best 13-game winning streak back on Feb. 11.
“We dropped this one,” Whiteside said. “Let’s get back home. We got a nice home stretch. It will be good to get back home and get back to playing offense like we know. I think we had a bunch of games over 100 [points]. We just need to get back to scoring and playing defense. We’ve really got to build our defense and get scoring off that.”