Oh, what a Tuesday night for the South Florida sports scene.
Three late-night games. Three game-winners. All with equally important impacts for the Miami Heat, Miami Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.
There was Dwyane Wade’s clutch fourth quarter, scoring 15 of the Heat’s final 17 points including a pivotal jumper with 5.9 seconds to lead Miami to a 102-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena. Wade finished with a season-high 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.
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“He loves those moments in front of this crowd, when you get there in the fourth quarter and the crowd is rocking like it was tonight,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game. “He feels an incredible sense of calm and peace in those pressure moments.”
Wade was also playing for something much bigger than himself. A day earlier, the 12-time All-Star dedicated the rest of the season to Joaquin Oliver, one of the 17 killed in the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day. Three days after the shooting, Oliver was laid to rest wearing his Wade jersey. Wade had Oliver’s name written on his jet black sneakers that he wore during the game and paid homage to Oliver and his late agent Henry Thomas in an Instagram post after the game.
“Joaquin Oliver and Henry Thomas thanks for being my angels tonite. #wegotmoreworktodo,” the post reads in part.
The win moved Miami (32-29) within one game of the 76ers for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference standings and pushed the Heat’s hold on the No. 8 spot to 3.5 games over the Detroit Pistons.
An hour after Wade sank his game-winning basket, the Hurricanes pulled off some late-night magic of their own in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
With the game tied and under five seconds left to play, Miami senior Ja’Quan Newton hit a running 35-foot prayer shot as the buzzer sounded to lift the Hurricanes to a 91-88 upset road victory over the ninth-ranked Tar Heels. Teammates mobbed Newton on the floor after sinking the shot, which came moments after UNC’s Joel Berry II tied the game with a three on the other end.
"As soon as Berry hit the shot, I came around and I wanted the ball,” Newton said after the game. “When I was dribbling up court and it said three seconds left, I was like, ‘I’ve got to shoot it.’ And once I shot it, it felt good coming out of my hand and then my mom made it go in for me.”
Newton’s mom, Lisa, died from a battle with cancer in 2014 when Newton was a senior at Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia.
Newton said he had hit game-winning shots before, but never expected to have the opportunity to hit one of the magnitude that he did on Tuesday night.
“I always watch it on TV, somebody does it,” Newton said. “For me to actually do it in this moment out there against North Carolina is something I will remember forever."
The win pushes Miami to 21-8 on the season and 10-7 in conference play heading into the Hurricanes’ regular-season finale against Virginia Tech on Saturday and almost guarantees that Miami will be dancing when the NCAA tournament bracket is released.
Meanwhile, in Sunrise, the Florida Panthers pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs to extend its winning streak to three straight games. Jared McCann had the game-winning shot with 1:14 remaining in overtime. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau scored the Panthers’ first two goals while Roberto Luongo made 37 saves.
The Panthers, winners of 10 of their past 13 games, are just five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second Eastern Conference wild card spot and have three games in hand compared to the rest of the field.