The Miami Heat didn’t go into Oracle Arena Tuesday night focused on the goliath task of trying to knock off the team with the best record in the league as much as it was simply trying to improve and avoid embarrassment.
“Obviously we don’t want a game that’s going to be in 130s and 40s,” coach Erik Spoelstra said at Tuesday morning’s shoot-around.
The Heat didn’t beat Golden State, but they weren’t run out of the building either.
Behind 28 points and 20 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside – the fifth time in his career he’s had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game – Miami challenged the Warriors hard for four quarters before former league MVPs Steph Curry and Kevin Durant proved to be too much.
Durant went for 28 points and eight rebounds and Curry had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists as Golden State hung on for a 107-95 victory minus two-time All-NBA Third Team guard Klay Thompson, who got the night off to rest and recover.
“I give them a lot of credit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They play hard every possession. [Spoelstra] is doing an amazing job with that group considering the loss of [Dwyane] Wade and the injuries. We knew that coming in just with watching the tape. They compete, get after it, defend and they play together.
“Whiteside is a handful. Whether he’s scoring inside or not, he’s a threat in there and you have to honor that. They are a good team and better than their record shows. I know you are going to say that’s coach speak or whatever, but they are a competitive team that plays hard and they are going to make you work. They don’t have enough firepower right now to win consistently, but they made us work for everything.”
The league leader in games lost to injury this season, the Heat (11-29) started it’s 17th different starting lineup of the season Tuesday with Dion Waiters in it for the first time since Nov. 26. Waiters had eight points and eight assists, but was only 4-of-17 from the field.
Still, with 6:36 remaining the Heat was in it, down just 85-82 after a Tyler Johnson dunk. The Warriors, which went into the fourth quarter ahead 79-68, eventually just pulled away as Miami’s offense sputtered down the stretch.
Miami shot only 42.7 percent and was 6-of-30 from three-point range. Spoelstra said he thought there were maybe a handful of threes his team took a little too early in the shot clock.
“For the most part I thought the ball was moving really well,” said Johnson, who had 18 points off the bench to go with seven rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes. “I thought we got good shots. I think there’s always a couple shots that maybe we wish we could of ran a little bit more clock. Everytime we got to a second situation we got whatever we wanted. So, I don’t know. It’s tough to look back on six or seven shots when guys are playing aggressive and playing free.”
Miami led 29-27 after one quarter and 54-53 at the half.
The Heat had its biggest lead of the game at 25-15 after a James Johnson dunk with 2:52 to play in the opening quarter. Johnson then ended the first quarter with a high-flying dunk over Curry. But the Warriors (33-6) quickly seized momentum with a 13-0 run early in the second quarter with Draymond Green and Golden State’s reserves on the court.
The Heat, though, battled back behind Whiteside, who had 11 of his first half 16 points in the second quarter and had his 26th double-double of the season by halftime.
Although the Heat outscored the Warriors 58-36 in the paint, Whiteside said he felt the team gave up too many fastbreak points early. Golden State outscored the Heat 34-12 on the break.
Is it too much to expect these kinds of efforts from Whiteside every night?
“No,” Spoelstra said. “This is what he signed up for. Those are the expectations that we have for him. He’s shown enough times this year that he’s capable of it. We’ve always said greatness is consistency. Night in, night out.
“And against different competition – great competition – sometimes there’s going to be big centers, proven centers, sometimes there’s going be a dynamic space lineup like you saw [vs. Warriors]. But when he plays at an extremely high level, we’re a good basketball team. Even with all the moving parts, we can compete against every team in this league when he’s like that.”