The Heat began the night with no Dwyane Wade, none of its top four power rotation players and no starter taller than 6-9. It ended the night with more frayed nerves but also an enormous sense of relief, having narrowly avoided losing a game that it led by a substantial margin entering the fourth.
A lopsided game became simply a matter of survival for Miami, which escaped with a 93-86 win Wednesday despite being outscored 24-11 in the fourth.
Playing with its 28th different starting lineup in 71 games (second-most in team history), the depleted Heat built a 22-point lead, then went cold in the fourth, just as it did a night earlier when it mustered just nine points in the fourth and squandered a 16-point lead in a loss at Milwaukee.
On Wednesday, the Heat entered the fourth ahead by 20 but scored only four points in the first 6:45 of the quarter, allowing a group of Celtics, mostly backups, to stage a comeback that drew Boston to within five in the final 14 seconds, but no closer.
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But the Heat, led by Goran Dragic’s 22 points and seven assists, did enough to stop a two-game losing streak and remain in seventh in the East, two games ahead of No. 8 Boston and No. 9 Indiana. The Heat (33-38) owns the tiebreaker with the Celtics by virtue of winning three of four games in the season series.
“This team continues to fight, persevere, have grit,” Udonis Haslem said.
Miami did it without Wade, sidelined by a left knee contusion, and also without Hassan Whiteside (hand laceration), Chris Andersen (left calf contusion) and, obviously, Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts.
“I love it when the league will present you with challenges like that one from [Tuesday] night where it’s an almost demoralizing type of loss and then you have almost a facsimile of a situation the next night with more adversity to have to respond,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Good to see our guys show the toughness. The loose balls we came up with that we didn’t [Tuesday]. It was pretty ugly in the fourth, but those loose balls and rebounds decided it.”
Spoelstra opened with 6-8 Haslem at center, 6-6 Henry Walker at power forward, and Mario Chalmers replacing Wade, alongside Dragic and Luol Deng.
The Heat, for the second night in a row, was lost offensively in the fourth, shooting 3 for 17 with seven turnovers. Miami was fortunate that the Celtics missed several makeable shots in the closing minutes.
Dragic was terrific, scoring 17 points in the first half to help the Heat build a 57-40 lead at intermission. “My mentality before the game was I need to carry this team,” he said.
But Spoelstra was most impressed by “how many loose balls he was involved in. He left half his skin on the floor.”
Spoelstra said that on the flight from Milwaukee, Dragic was “beating himself up” over a loose ball he lost to Zaza Pachulia late in Tuesday’s game. Dragic said that was in the back of his mind Wednesday.
Deng added 15 and Tyler Johnson (who left briefly with a sprained ankle), Haslem and Walker each chipped in 12. Haslem also corralled 12 rebounds. Chalmers had seven assists and James Ennis contributed six points, six rebounds and two blocks in 20 active minutes.
As for Wade, he said he isn’t sure if he will be able to play Friday in Atlanta, the final game of a four-game road trip. “I won’t know [until later in the week],” he said.
Though Wade has now missed 19 of the Heat’s 71 games this season, this marked only the second game that Wade sat out with a knee injury, with both coming against Boston. Wade has missed 16 games with hamstring issues and one with a hip injury.
Wade said he believes the injury happened during the second half of Tuesday’s game.
“I took a fall and bumped it on the ground,” he said. “It’s a bruise. It swelled up pretty well on the flight and [Wednesday] morning. I went up for a shot and undercut it and came down bad.”
Wade said he and trainers and coaches “don’t think it’s smart for me to play on it. … I felt it as the game [went on]. I’ll get a lot of treatment.”
Whiteside required 10 stitches after he lacerated his right hand when he hit the rim trying to block a shot during Tuesday’s game. He said the injury will need two weeks to heal, but he can play at some undetermined point during that two-week period if he tapes together his ring and middle fingers.
Whiteside, uncertain if he would play Friday, said pain tolerance is also an issue in determining when he will play again. And he said one concern with playing is “you don’t want to re-open the stitches.”