At this point in the season, the Heat will take a win any way it can get it.
Miami has been stuck in neutral lately after only winning three of its past nine coming into Friday night’s matchup with the Grizzlies. Heat center Chris Bosh observed that regular-season wins are sort of treated as routine on the outside, but he made it clear, they still have some meaning.
“Winning’s still special to me and it needs to be to everyone here,” Bosh said. “We’re not going to play perfect games, we have to accept. If we’re in a dogfight, we’re in a dogfight, [we] just [need to] find a way to win.”
For four quarters Friday, the two teams slugged it out and went toe-to-toe at the AmericanAirlines Arena in a playoff-style contest with gritty defense. Ultimately, Miami got one more bounce than Memphis in a 91-86 victory.
“When you play against a big team like this that can defend well, you have to be able to work the game and you have to manage all the emotions that go on with it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We were able to keep it close enough and went a run at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, we played our best basketball of the game on both ends.”
It was a contest in which LeBron James did not steal the headlines early, only taking two shots in the first quarter and entering halftime with only two points. James admitted he is still battling the back issues that kept him out of Wednesday’s game against Boston.
However, it was the reigning MVP who put the game on ice with a three-pointer with 24.8 seconds left. Ray Allen added a dunk with 14.1 seconds remaining.
The two teams have such contrasting styles of play and that showcased itself on the court. The Grizzlies dug in their heels and attacked the paint to the tune of 58 points. Miami relied heavily on its shooting prowess and hit seven three-pointers and only scored 34 points in the lane, many of those on floaters and jumpers from below the foul line.
Spoelstra said before the game he wanted his defense to be aggressive and physical with Memphis, and the Heat took it to a new level. Miami did a decent job at denying the ball from entering the hands of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph near the hoop. However, the Heat big men also picked up 11 fouls attempting to stifle Memphis down low.
But when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, Miami poured its heart out to deflect rebounds away or strip them away. Spoelstra certainly noticed the improved effort after a uneasy beginning.
“You don’t go up against a frontline like that very often,” Spoelstra said. “The way the game started with the offensive rebounds, I thought we were going in the wrong direction. In the fourth quarter, there were some great team rebounds and team efforts even if we didn’t get it.
“That’s what you have to do against the physicality.”
Allen led the Heat with 18 points, and his shooting once again stole the show. He hit several clutch shots and continued his recent streak of good shooting night. Allen is averaging more than 18 points per game in his past five contests. Spoelstra said Allen understands the playoffs are approaching, but Bosh argues the streak is the result of the Heat starting to get Allen more looks.
“We’re involving him a lot more, getting him some looks at the basket and putting him in a position to make plays,” Bosh said. “It’s working out for him really well.
“He’s playing very well, we just have to catch up with him and, hopefully, before the season’s over we can all be on the same page.”
Randolph proved troublesome all night in the post with his size and ability to make jumpers with a hand in his face. He ended with 25 points and was dominant on the glass with 14 rebounds.
The Heat attempted to double team him later in the game and forced the ball to leave his hands earlier in the possession. Yet, Randolph continued to make the circus shots he has become known for over the taller defenders like Bosh. James said you may not be able to stop the shots where he doesn’t jump, but it takes a team to help out and limit Randolph’s effectiveness.
“He’s a load,” James said. “He’s unbelievable with his hands, he’s unbelievable anticipating where the ball is going to go. It’s about carving out space and being proactive instead of reactive with him. It’s a team effort.”