The Miami Heat have made holding onto leads a series of scary movies this season.
Sunday’s meltdown was epic.
And yet still, after blowing a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Heat somehow found a way to survive and hold on for a 104-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.
Blake Griffin scored 23 points and along with Lou Williams keyed L.A.’s thrilling comeback. But after James Johnson hit a pair of free throws with 8.7 seconds to go to put Miami back in front, Griffin took a fadeaway jump shot over the outstretched hands of Hassan Whiteside and missed with three seconds to play and Josh Richardson was there to scoop up the rebound for Miami (4-5).
“I might have cried if he would have made that, man, because of all the things that happened through the flow of the game,” said Whiteside, who after having his nine game double-double streak snapped in Friday’s loss at Denver finished with 21 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes of work.
“Them making that big run and then him making the game-winner on me, it would have been terrible. That Denver loss hurt a lot. This would have hurt even more, especially against a Clippers team with the way they’re playing. They’re playing great basketball. A lot of people didn’t think they were going to be this good, but they’re playing great basketball. They got a scrappy point guard and they got a great frontcourt.”
The Heat, which lost Friday’s game when Johnson fouled Paul Millsap on a three-point attempt late in the game and Millsap scored the go-ahead points at the free throw line, got 52 points from its bench Sunday, including 19 from Tyler Johnson, 17 from Wayne Ellington and 14 from James Johnson.
Miami played Sunday’s game without starting shooting guard Dion Waiters, who returned home to South Florida on Saturday for the birth of his daughter.
And yet, despite all that, it still almost wasn’t enough.
The Clippers (5-4) scored the first 16 points of the fourth quarter and trimmed the Heat’s lead to 89-82 with 7:12 left to play on a Willie Reed dunk. The Heat missed its first 10 shots of the fourth quarter and finally put the ball through the rim on a James Johnson putback slam with 6:46 to play.
“This league is tough,” Johnson said. “I give a lot of credit to the Clippers. They kept fighting. Especially that unit that came in the fourth quarter. They brought a different pace, different style and we kind of relaxed. Those are the kind of moments we don’t need and we’re still working on. It’s still early and we’re still working. But the kind of character our guys showed today by coming back and just being OK with the situation and we ended up getting it done.”
Los Angeles grabbed its first lead since the first quarter with 2:55 to play when Griffin hit a pair of free throws to make it 95-93. The Heat answered with a Richardson corner three-pointer, a pair of Goran Dragic free throws and then a Whiteside alley-oop dunk with 1:29 to play. But the Heat couldn’t protect its 100-97 lead and needed a late lift from Johnson.
Now, the six-game road trip continues Monday night at Golden State against the defending world champions.
“This is going to be it [for celebrating] right now,” Johnson said. “As soon as we got on the bus I’m sure we're going to have film on Golden State. Treat them the same way. They put on their shorts like we do and put on their sneakers one foot at a time.”
▪ Justise Winslow made his first start of the season and the first since Dec. 30 of last season in place of Waiters but was plagued by foul trouble. He finished with two points (1-of-4 shooting) and two rebounds in 17 minutes.