The Miami Heat and Utah Jazz played a defensive slugfest for 45 minutes on Friday night.
Then, Philly Cheese simply took over.
On a night when both teams clanked and clanked and clanked shot after shot, the Heat found a way to survive behind Dion Waiters, who keyed a 13-0 run over the final 2 minutes and 45 seconds of the game and lifted Miami to an 84-74 victory at Vivint Smart House Arena.
The Heat, which improved to 6-6 and 3-2 on this six-game West Coast trip, shot 39 percent for the game and held the Jazz (5-7) to 33.8 percent shooting.
Miami (6-6) trailed 49-37 at the half, but held Utah to 1 of 18 shooting in the third quarter and an unreal 4 of 33 shooting in the second half, a new franchise mark for the Heat, which had never an opponent under six field goals in a half before Friday.
“This is the classic modern-day pace-and-space game right here,” coach Erik Spoelstra said mockingly. “Pat [Riley] wasn’t with us tonight, but he’d be proud of this game. This is a total throwback to the ‘90s. We knew that coming in, that this would be vastly different than the Phoenix game and that this game would feel like it's being played in the mud.
“We were flat in the first half, so the 12-point lead, it felt like it was a 20-point lead, just because we didn’t get our defense established the entire 24 minutes, and they were able to get relief points, able to get guys going. They were just in a great offensive flow. We looked a little bit more like ourselves in the second half.
“At times it was ugly offensively, but guys made big plays. Goran carried us for a while, in the third quarter, then Dion obviously took over at the end. But I would say Hassan’s eight-point game is one of the most inspiring games he's had in a Miami Heat uniform, really anchored our defense. Guys were making inspiring plays because of what they saw him doing. It was great to see. It's not one of those box scores from a points standpoint that will jump off the page, but his impact was incredible.”
Waiters was the difference late. After starting the game 4 of 17 from the field, he hit a corner three-pointer on an inbounds pass with 2:45 to play to tie the score at 74 and then hit another bucket before driving and finding an open Josh Richardson for a three-pointer. Waiters finished with 21 points including 10 of the Heat’s final 13 points.
“It felt like he was 4 for 100 going into that last five-minute stretch,” Spoelstra said. “He just couldn’t get the ball to drop. I thought he was really being aggressive, getting to the rim. That’s what [Rudy] Gobert does, though, he alters your shots and makes it tough on your reads. [Waiters] had some rim in-and-out. He just couldn’t get them to go down. But I don’t think he even notices if he’s missing or not, once you get for the last three or four minutes. He lives for those times and he stepped up and made some big plays, obviously.”
Before Waiters’ outburst, an offensive showcase it was not.
After scoring a season-high 126 points and shooting a season-best 53.1 percent in a wire-to-wire victory at Phoenix Wednesday night against the league’s third-worst defense, the Heat scored only 37 points in the first half against a much-better Jazz defense, which came in allowing the fewest points in the paint in the league and ranked fifth in defensive rating.
Miami’s starters shot a woeful 6 of 27 from the field in the first half with Goran Dragic and Waiters, going a combined 3 of 15 from the field. Dragic finished 7 of 17 with 18 points and Whiteside added eight points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in the win.
After rallying with the second unit to grab a 25-22 advantage after one quarter, Miami scored only 12 points in the second quarter and shot 31.7 percent in the ifrst half after missing its last 10 shots to close the half. Utah outscored Miami 20-4 in the second quarter after Wayne Ellington buried a three-pointer to put Miami ahead 33-29 with 6:58 to go in the half.
But the second half was a much different story.
“We talked about this road trip, like all other long ones, is an opportunity for you to develop your competitive character,” Spoelstra said. “We got knocked in the jaw that first night in Denver, but we continued to plug away, stay connected. You can turn those painful times into something you can grow from. But the road trip’s not over. We can enjoy this one for a day, try to enjoy the 'Canes-Irish game tomorrow and get ready for a big game on Sunday and try to close it out.”
▪ Rookie Donovan Mitchell, a player the Heat very much liked and possibly could have taken with the 14th pick had the Jazz not traded up to get him a pick earlier, led Utah with 12 first half points. He didn’t score in the second half.