Being able to hold on to big leads just doesn’t seem to be the Miami Heat’s thing this season.
Less than two weeks after letting a 25-point second-half lead slip away before rallying late to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles, the Heat did it again Friday night against the Wizards — and once again managed to pull off the victory.
Behind 22 points and 16 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside and 20 points, five rebounds and four assists from James Johnson, Miami beat the Wizards 91-88 at Capital One Arena — but only after another heart pounding finish.
Washington (9-6) rallied from 25 down late in the first half and shrunk the Heat lead down to 89-88 with 11.3 seconds to play. But after Johnson hit a free throw with 6.5 seconds left to increase the Heat’s lead to 90-88, Bradley Beal missed a 17-foot jump shot and Justise Winslow grabbed the rebound with 0.2 seconds left to seal the win for Miami (7-8).
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“It was pretty harrowing,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But, look, nothing is guaranteed in this league. But the process that this team is committed to, I respect that... to really spend a lot of time trying to fix some of the things that we’re going through.
“We have a long ways to go, but the last 24 hours was a step in the right direction, just in terms of our approach to get better, just in terms of the competitiveness, that has to be a staple for this team. We probably won’t be one of those teams that’s scoring 130, 140 [points] when you look at the scores at night, but we can be a team that can make it very tough on you defensively. We can be physical. We can win those [50-50] battles and execute efficiently and get the ball where it needs to go, to find some success. But we’re getting there.”
The Heat, which blew a seven-point fourth quarter lead in its loss to the Wizards at home on Wednesday, played suffocating defense for most of the game and did get to a lot of loose balls especially in the first half.
Miami held Washington, the fourth-highest scoring team in the league at 110.7 points per game, to a season-low 38.1 percent shooting percentage and All-Star point guard John Wall scoreless until he hit a three-pointer with 5:25 to play. Wall finished with eight points and eight assists in 35 minutes. Beal led Washington with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
“There's some things that I really liked,” Spoelstra said. “I thought our execution and attention to detail and our coherency was much better, for example, versus that Clipper game, in the second half, where it felt like the wheels were coming off. Here it didn’t feel like that at all. We were executing, getting the type of shots that we wanted. Now, we weren’t getting all of ‘em, because you have to give them credit. They stepped up their defense, a very good defensive team. But we were executing much better, so guys felt a lot more calm and steady going down the stretch.”
The Heat led 50-29 after a stellar first half.
Not only did Miami do it with defense — holding the Wizards to 28.6 percent shooting over the first two quarters including 0 for 13 on three-pointers — but offensively Miami collected assists on 14 of its first 20 buckets, scored 28 points in the paint and 12 points off nine Washington turnovers.
Miami’s 19 first-half fastbreak points were not a first-half high, but an overall season-high, eclipsing the 16 fastbreak points the Heat scored Nov. 5 in a win over the Clippers. The Heat finished with 21 fastbreak points for the game.
But the Wizards quickly shrunk that lead to single digits, outscoring the Heat 28-16 in the third quarter as Miami missed 15 of its 20 shots in the period and turned it over five times to set up a heart-pounding fourth quarter.
The key for Miami down the stretch was it had Johnson, who put a series of rough games behind him and stepped up big while Goran Dragic (3 of 11, 6 points), Dion Waiters (4 of 13, 13 points) and Josh Richardson (1 of 10, 3 points) struggled to hit shots. Johnson scored 13 points in the second half and had a pair of big assists in the fourth quarter to Whiteside.
“He had it rolling the whole night,” Johnson said of Whiteside. “He was rolling hard, setting good screens the whole night. I knew they were loosening up a little bit and once they did, feed our big man.”
The Heat, which returns home to host the Pacers on Sunday afternoon and the Celtics on Wednesday, won’t see Washington again until March 6. Four days later, the Wizards will visit AmericanAirlines Arena again and complete the season series.
▪ Rookie Bam Adebayo, who had not played since he replaced Whiteside in the second half of a loss at Golden State on Nov. 6, played four minutes off the bench on Friday and had one point and one rebound.