Dion Waiters has a way with words.
Lately, he’s become a guy who has a way of hitting big-time shots late in games.
On Wednesday night, the player coach Erik Spoelstra said has an acute level of irrational confidence, powered the Heat once again. He scored 24 points and made three three-pointers over the final four minutes and 14 seconds of a back-and-forth tussle with the Charlotte Hornets to lift the Heat to a thrilling 108-101 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The victory pulled Miami — winners of 20 of its past 24 games and now 31-34 overall — within a half game of both the Chicago Bulls (31-33) and Detroit Pistons (31-33) for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
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“If you don’t have no confidence I don’t think you should be in this league,” said Waiters, who after hitting the dagger to beat the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the road Monday night has begun to put together a nice résumé of big shots late in games, including the off-balance three-pointer he buried Wednesday over Kemba Walker to put the Heat up 105-98 with 45.3 seconds left.
“I’m not going to sit here and say it was a bad shot because I work on them shots,” Waiters continued. “I’m not ever going to say that — even if it was.”
His coach had no problem with the shots either. Spoelstra said when his arms were flailing down the stretch of the game, he was trying to signal to his players to create better spacing for Waiters, who was pinned on the sideline.
“No matter what his percentage may be during the course of a game or for the season, you get down to those last couple minutes and he’ll think that his percentage is 60 percent,” Spoelstra said of Waiters.
“That’s more than half the battle in this league, your confidence and your ability to make plays over the top. But he actually had a couple other plays, too, not just the threes. We were dead in the water, their defense really got us flattened out, and he saved us on a couple of those possessions.”
The Heat buried 17 three-pointers on a franchise-record-tying 41 attempts.
With Wednesday’s performance, Miami has now tied a franchise record for most games in a single season with at least 10 threes made as a team (31) and made at least 15 three-pointers in three consecutive games, the most ever in franchise history for a three-game span.
A season ago, Miami had just eight double-digit three-point games and none more than a dozen in a game. This season? The Heat is 13-3 when it makes at least 13 three-pointers in a game.
On Wednesday, the Heat needed every single one of those threes to hold off the Hornets (28-36).
Charlotte went into the fourth quarter leading 86-81. But the Heat went on a 12-0 run midway through the quarter to take the lead for good.
Walker scored 33 points and had a chance to pull Charlotte to within a field goal with 20.9 seconds to play following a steal at midcourt. But he missed the uncontested layup and Goran Dragic pounced on the rebound.
Dragic, who was poked in his right eye early in the game, had 22 points, six rebounds and 10 assists in 34 minutes. Hassan Whiteside chipped in with 10 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. And James Johnson, who returned after missing Monday’s win in Cleveland with a lacerated right elbow, put up 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks in 29 minutes off the bench.
“Look at the shots they made,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “James Johnson made a step-back three. Waiters made three contested threes, the last one which was partially blocked. They made shots. Our defense in the fourth quarter was actually pretty good, much better than the stats will say.”
But this isn’t the same team the Hornets beat twice earlier this season either, Clifford admitted.
And Waiters is a big part of that.
A little more than a week after the Heat blew a five-point lead in a costly loss in Dallas, Waiters played the role of hero on Wednesday night. He took every big shot down the stretch and delivered.
“I’ve got total, 100 percent confidence in Dion,” said Wayne Ellington, who was 3 of 8 on three-pointers for the Heat. “He’s a gamer, man. When that clock is running down and he’s got it in his hands I know he’s going to do something good with it. He’s been coming up clutch for us. He’s a clutch player.”