Goran Dragic returned to the lineup Friday night, and his presence was felt in an efficient offensive showing.
Dwyane Wade snapped a tie on a pull-up jumper with 44.5 seconds left, as the Heat gutted out a 107-103 victory, closing a five-game road trip with a third straight victory.
Dragic’s return helped free up a Heat offense that scored just 79 points in a home loss to the Bucks 10 days earlier. They surpassed that in three quarters Friday night.
Dragic finished with 12 points and eight assists in 31:37 – a playing-time number Heat coach Erik Spoelstra seemed to rule out before the game. Dragic seemed nothing worse for the wear.
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“I was surprised a little bit,” Dragic said of his playing time. “But like I said, I felt great. No pain, nothing.”
Spoelstra noted that he tried to shorten Dragic’s stint. Dragic went to the bench with 7:57 left and returned for the final 4:46.
“What I tried to do what stagger his minutes so he wasn’t playing past fatigue,” Spoelstra said. “Every time I took him out he said, ‘Why?’
“The minutes build up, but as long as you’re fresh, guys can do that for a long period of time.”
Wade led the Heat (26-21) with 24 points, sealing the win with two free throws with 3.9 seconds left. Wade scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, the third straight game — all victories — he had double figures in the final period.
Chris Bosh added 20 points, and Luol Deng chipped in 16, including a crucial three-pointer with 2:26 left.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee (20-29) with 28 points.
The Heat led for all but a few seconds of the first 35 minutes before consecutive three-pointers by rookie Rashad Vaughn helped Milwaukee take a 83-81 edge into the fourth.
Dragic tied it at 85 with a jumper with 10:37 left, and Bosh drilled a three-pointer to put the Heat back on top 88-85.
A three-point play by Bosh on Dragic’s eighth assist of the night pushed it to 92-87. Milwaukee came back within 94-92 and had what should have been an easy tying basket on a fast break. But one too many passes allowed Amar’e Stoudemire to get back and snuff Jabari Parker’s attempt under the basket, and Wade converted two free throws on a break the other way with 6:05 left.
Wade added another pair of free throws for a six-point edge with 4:28 left.
Still, the Heat could not keep the Bucks off the foul line. Pairs of free throws by Greg Monroe and Antetokounmpo cut it to 98-96, and after Parker blocked Wade’s inside scoop attempt, Monroe scored inside to tie it with 3:01 left.
Wade then contributed one of the bigger “little things” plays of the night.
Bosh missed a three-pointer from straight out, but Wade flew in to tip the rebound out to the left corner to Justise Winslow. That led to Deng’s big three-pointer at the 2:26 mark.
“We had a lot of colliding bodies, it was a long rebound,” Spoelstra said. “I think Dwyane tipped it and Justise tracked it down.”
Added Wade: “I was underneath the basket and just trying to make a play. I was able to see where the ball was coming off because I was underneath and I got a chance to tip it out. Lu hit a big shot for us, because we were bleeding at that point.”
Dragic had an immediate effect on the Heat offense, drilling three jumpers and dishing two assists in the opening 6:11 before taking a seat. He returned at the 10:27 mark of the second quarter, and the efficient Heat offense immediately got a dunk from Stoudemire that made it 41-32. Dragic next assisted on a Bosh three-pointer that made it 44-32.
Dragic led the Heat with 10 first-half points and added three assists as Miami took a 55-48 lead into the locker room.
Dragic did not score in the third period — he took just two shots in the second half — but did contribute three more assists.
“I was just reading the game,” Dragic said. “I didn’t have any open shots. They defended the pick-and-roll pretty well and I didn’t want to force it. I just tried to get the ball to the next guy.”
In doing so, Dragic helped the Heat post 27 assists on 37 made baskets.
“It was great to have him back out there,” Wade said. “Obviously we have to learn it all again — back to playing with each other — but to have him bringing the ball up and get us in the offense, to see him aggressive at times, which we need, which we love, it was just great to have him back out there.”
Josh McRoberts also was “back out there.” The veteran big man played 16 minutes in his first action since Dec. 9. He posted just two points but had a team-high rating of plus-8.
“We’re a no-excuses team, but we look a lot different with them [Dragic and McRoberts],” Spoelstra said. “I was probably the happiest guy to have both of those guys back in the rotation. We can build on that.”
After losing the first two games of this trip by 19 and 20 points, the Heat has built a nice streak for the flight home. Next up is Atlanta on Sunday, and those first home games after a long road trip often prove difficult.
Bosh is aware of that.
“Just prepare for that and know it’s going to be tough,” he said. “Expect it from the jump, don’t be complacent.”
JOHNSON, WHITESIDE SIT
Guard Tyler Johnson did not play because of a recurring shoulder problem.
Johnson said the shoulder started to bother him in Monday’s victory at Chicago and limited his effectiveness Tuesday in the victory at Brooklyn.
“I just didn’t want to hurt the team,” Johnson said of trying to play Friday, adding that he considered his status day-to-day.
Spoelstra didn’t rule out the possibility of surgery for Johnson in the offseason.
“In the offseason that’s probably something we all have to look at,” Spoelstra said. “But right now we have to see if we can manage it. We’ll see what happens when we get back to Miami.”
Hassan Whiteside missed his fourth straight game with an oblique strain.
“Once we get back to Miami, I think we’ll give it a look-over a little better,” Whiteside said before the game.
Gerald Green missed the shootaround feeling “under the weather,” according to Spoelstra, but played and posted 10 points in just over 20 minutes.