Losing at night after one of the shortest days of the year didn’t keep the Heat from putting the sunny side up on Saturday’s 103-95 loss to Memphis.
Never mind Memphis came into AmericanAirlines Arena on the second half of a back-to-back after losing in overtime to Houston on Friday night. Or that Memphis came in with a four-game losing streak and was without injured 6-9 forward Zach Randolph. Or that the Heat chopped a 19-point Memphis lead down to one in the third quarter, then failed 11 times the rest of the way when it had a chance to take the lead.
Eventually, the Heat (14-17) began fouling, and Memphis (22-8) went to the line 23 times in the fourth quarter alone and hit 18 (78.3 percent), led by Marc Gasol (4 of 6 from the line in the quarter, 22 points for the game). So did an excellent defensive second half, 11-of035 shooting (31.4 percent), go to waste for the Heat.
“We’re getting closer,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said with the smile of an encouraging parent despite his team being 6-11 at home. “Sometimes, you get so deep in the forest, you can’t see the trees, and I think that’s sometimes how we feel right now, but if we can step back objectively without emotion, you can see we’re making some progress.”
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Said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, “We played a good game. We gave ourselves a chance to win. That’s all you can do. I thought everybody played a pretty good game. I’m proud of the way my team played.”
Wade looked like Wade of 2009, hitting 11 of 17 from the field for 25 points, making four steals and dishing seven assists. Danny Granger looked like Danny Granger from 2009 with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, helping keep the Heat from being completely blown out in the first half.
“That’s very encouraging,” Spoelstra said of Granger. “He’s been putting in a lot of work. We’re just happy to see him moving like this.”
Granger said with his knee problems the last two years, “When I was playing, I would see things, but my knee wouldn’t allow me to do it. I couldn’t get where I needed to go. I didn’t want to jump from rebounds. After I healed back from all that, now, it’s just playing my game. At times tonight, I felt like four years ago.”
But if Wade, Granger and Luol Deng seemed to find their 2009 selves, the Grizzlies reached back even farther in some ways, almost to dial-up Internet chat room era. Off the Memphis bench, Tayshaun Prince, 34, played 31:40, had 10 points and played some of the defense for which he was once known. Vince Carter, 37, hit a key deep three from 2004. Guard Beno Udrih threw in 11 points and guided the Grizzlies through a first half that allowed Memphis to rest its starters.
The first half closed with the Heat down 57-41 after Mike Conley (24 points) outscored the Heat on a 7-2 run: two free throws, a free throw after referee Michael Smith slapped Spoelstra with a technical foul and a three-pointer off the ensuing inbounds play.
When Conley opened the second half scoring with a three-pointer to give Memphis a 19-point lead, a resigned sigh seemed to settle over AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat had rested Friday while the Grizzlies went overtime in losing to Houston, but the first-half bench play allowed Conley to play only 14:41, Lee 15:17 and Tony Allen 14:36.
Maybe they needed another warmup after all that bench time. Or maybe the Heat rediscovered its defense. It’s usually a combination of the two. Whatever, suddenly Memphis went cold. And the Heat started getting some easy baskets, outscoring Memphis 14-4 in the paint during the third quarter, leading to shooting 61.1 percent from the field in the third.
The dunk by Chris Andersen off an alley-oop pass from Mario Chalmers, an off-balance layup by Chalmers and a tip-in by Deng got the Heat rolling for the first time since, well, warmups. Shawne Williams, a game-time decision to play after testing his injured left foot, drained a three-pointer, then got a fast break layup after Andersen rebounded Conley’s misfired wide-open corner three-point shot.
That got the Heat to within 10 at 63-53. The Grizzlies came out of a timeout with a Marc Gasol dunk but another Andersen dunk reignited the Heat. Wade canned a running flip, threaded a beautiful pass to Deng for a baseline layup, then got his own fast-break layup when Deng tapped the remnants of a bad Grizzlies pass to him. Another Wade jumper cut the Memphis lead to 65-64.