The Miami Heat has played an NBA-best 48 clutch games this season. None was more entertaining than the one played Monday night.
In a battle of two teams fighting for playoff position and featuring 22 lead changes, the Heat survived a double overtime back-and-forth battle by setting a franchise-record for points in a 149-141 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
James Johnson was the hero of heroes for the Heat, scoring a career-high 31 points including 18 after regulation – we think. On a night Miami eclipsed its previous high for points (141) by a wide margin, the NBA’s stat tracking system crashed in overtime and no official boxscore had been released as of midnight.
“OK, you look at the score and it looks like Miami Heat-Denver Nuggets circa late '80s, Ron Rothstein coaching the Heat,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I finally got one thing that I can throw back in Ronnie's face, we outscored all of his teams, even when they played much faster in that era than they do now.
“But what a grind, what a grind. I guess we’ve just been in more of these than most teams and we felt that we were getting tougher and building some resilience in these situations and you're just waiting for the time when you could reap some benefits for that experience and some of the painful things that we’ve gone through. And you saw a little of that tonight.”
In a game that just was fit to be tied many times, Johnson hit back-to-back three-pointers in the second overtime, one from the corner and then another straight away to put the Heat ahead for good 142-134 with 1:23 left. Johnson, 30, played 46 minutes in all and had 11 rebounds, six assists and a block according to an unoffical boxscore.
Johnson had lots of help. Kelly Olynyk had 30 points, eight rebounds, five assists and a career-high four blocks. Wayne Ellington made six three-pointers and had 23 points. Goran Dragic had 20 points, four rebounds and eight assists.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 34 points. Wilson Chandler added 26 and Jamal Murray had 23.
There were 17 lead changes in regulation. Jokic’s tip-in with 10 seconds to play tied the score at 118, setting the stage for the Heat to try and win the game on the final shot. But Josh Richardson’s short jumper in the lane over a Nuggets defender didn’t fall.
The Heat had a chance to win the game at the end of the first overtime again, but Johnson missed a runner in the lane off glass and time expired. He made up for it in the second overtime, scoring 10 of the Heat’s 18 points in the five-minute period.
With Milwaukee’s loss at Cleveland, the Heat (38-33) moved from eighth up to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 11 games remaining on the schedule.
The Nuggets (38-33) entered Monday's game 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and now find themselves further back.
After slowing down the Lakers, the No. 1-ranked offense in terms of pace, in a 92-91 win Friday in Los Angeles, the Heat invited the Nuggets over for a track meet Monday night.
Miami, which fell behind 16-5 early, took a 64-63 lead into the half after shooting 55.6 percent from the field and making eight three-pointers over the first two quarters. It was just the beginning of a wild night.
Miami led 88-81 with 1:55 left in the third quarter before the Nuggets went on a 13-4 run to take the lead in the fourth.