Something completely unexpected happened at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday. The Heat actually won a game.
The team had lost five consecutive games at home — and eight of its past nine in Miami dating back to the second week of November — and the initial outlook against the Boston Celtics was discouraging before tipoff. Dwyane Wade was scratched from the lineup with a sore knee, and Chris Bosh was ruled out of his fifth game in a row.
But with no star players to lean on, a bunch of Heat role players shined and shared the responsibility, putting together some of the Heat’s most cohesive basketball in weeks. The result was an easy 100-84 victory against the Celtics, which started rookie point guard Marcus Smart for the first time in his career only a few days after the team traded Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks.
With Wade out, the Heat (13-15) used its ninth different lineup in the past 13 games. Despite that, the offense was free flowing throughout the first half, and the team’s defense held the Celtics to 39 percent shooting in the second half.
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“I’m happy for the guys in the locker room — six guys in double figures — but also finding out a handful of minutes before the game that Dwyane and Hassan [Whiteside] weren’t going to play, the guys really banded together and put together an effort,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Regardless of the result, just to put together a real tough-minded effort and give ourselves a chance, I like seeing that, and I like seeing the spirit in the locker room.”
The Celtics (10-15) are in the middle of another rebuilding season, but that didn’t take away from the Heat’s short-handed victory. In addition to the absences of Bosh and Wade, Whiteside missed the game with an injury (two of his toenails were removed after Friday’s game), and center Justin Hamilton left the game in the second quarter because of headaches.
In other words, the Heat’s only available interior defenders for most of the game were Chris Andersen and the Udonis Haslem and, despite that abbreviated frontcourt, the Heat’s defense held the Celtics to less than 40 percent shooting for the game.
A down-court baseball pass in transition from Norris Cole to Luol Deng led to an easy layup with 3:07 left and gave Miami a 13-point cushion. Deng led the Heat with 23 points, going 9 of 15 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
“We haven’t been playing well at home,” Deng said. “This was a step forward. We really needed it. If you lose a game like this, you come up with excuses, but if you win a game like this, and guys’ confidence gets bigger, it will up us going forward.”
Heat rookie James Ennis showed the most improvement of the Heat’s younger players.
Ennis had 10 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points overall. His put-back dunk in the fourth was the highlight of the night and he was 4 of 8 from the field, 2 of 3 from three-point range and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds and a steal.
“Guys are coming together in terms of communication and connection,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s more powerful than schematics.”
Filling in at backup shooting guard, Ennis drained a three-pointer with 7:34 left in the game that gave the Heat an 11-point lead. He then rattled down another wide-open three-pointer two minutes later to put the Heat ahead 84-73.
The dunk came with 5:04 left and a split second after Andersen missed a six-foot jumper. Ennis raced in from the flank, elevated for the rebound and then dunked it with a powerful overhand putback.
“James came with a lot of energy and the crashing in his rebounding was great,” Deng said. “He is a good player, and he is going to keep on getting better, so we expect him to have games like that, or even better. He’s going to be a great player.”
Haslem played well for the second game in the row. His 10 points came in the first half, and he finished with six rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes.
Andersen was active as well despite a noticeable limp. He had seven points and six rebounds in 24 minutes and his breakaway dunk with 1:39 left gave the Heat a 13-point lead. It was Andersen’s first time in his career to start three consecutive games.
Tyler Zeller led the Celtics with 22 points, and Jeff Green had 13 points.
One game after being moved to the bench, Cole started at point guard and had 15 points, going 7 of 13 from the field. He also had four assists. Mario Chalmers started in place of Wade at shooting guard and had 11 points and 11 assists. Shawne Williams had 11 points, including eight in the first half.
“It was just good for the guys to show real cohesiveness when we could have felt sorry for ourselves,” Spoelstra said. “You felt like a real cohesion, a real connection. Guys were encouraging each other when they were coming back to the bench.”