James Johnson said the Heat were in a “code red” and couldn’t wait any longer to right the ship.
What better way to start than snapping the league’s longest winning streak.
Dion Waiters bounced back from a dreadful performance and Goran Dragic conducted the sustained effort the Heat was looking for in a 104-98 victory over the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday night that snapped their 16-game winning streak.
After two grueling practices that followed a 25-point defeat Sunday against the Indiana Pacers - the Heat’s most lopsided of the season - Heat coach Erik Spoelstra celebrated the team’s execution on the court more than the victory.
“I don't even care about the result,” Spoelstra said. “Right now, it's all behavior and habits. So, the test will be what we do for the next 48 hours. Guys really brought a purity to the work, a focus, a discipline the last two days and we got after it. It was training-camp level practices, but you're not always able to do that during the course of the season, and snap into attention. So all those little things, that's what I want to see.”
Boston’s streak was the longest run of victories by an opponent the Heat has ever snapped in its history. The previous longest was a 15-game surge by the New York Knicks, then coached by current Heat president Pat Riley, in April 1994. Harold Miner led the Heat with 22 points that night.
Dragic, who had failed to score in double figures in his two previous games, finished with 27 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“Goran was great,” Spoelstra said. “Goran's a winner. What we're trying to learn is winning habits. That's all we've been talking about, is we want to be more consistent on the court. You have to learn how to win, learn how to develop winning habits. And that's all the things that lead up to it. That's your professionalism, your approach, the consistency with behavior, consistency with routine. I can go on and on and one, and you can just put a picture of Goran Dragic and that's why he is one of the most consistent guys not around this team but in the league.”
Waiters, who failed to score and went 0-for-10 shooting in Sunday’s debacle against the Indiana Pacers, responded with 26 points on 11 of 24 shooting including 4 of 10 from three-point range against the Celtics.
“[Waiters] has great confidence,” Spoelstra said. “It’s about learning better decision making and responsibility with the ball during the course of the game, to make plays for our team. And I thought he was reading the defense better, being more aggressive and patient and persistent, getting to what we wanted to get to, rather than just bailing out on those shots.
“Now, you get to the end of the game and their defense is a great defense. And you have to have guys that can create their own shot and create something out of nothing, particularly at the end of the clock and he can do that. But I thought this was one of his better games throughout. And then so it's just not a bailout at the end. He had some rhythm.”
And most importantly, the Heat found a way to finish as it stiff-armed several late comeback attempts by the Celtics including a final fourth quarter surge that cut Miami’s lead to 91-90 with 3:14 left.
The Heat (8-9) answered with six straight points on back-to-back threes by Waiters and held on.
The Celtics (16-3) had pulled off eight fourth quarter comebacks during the winning streak and had erased a late 15-point deficit in their previous win against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
The Heat didn’t collapse in the third quarter as it did Sunday following up its 51.3 percent (20 of 39) shooting effort in the first half with an only slightly worse 20 of 41 output in the second half.
The Heat also outrebounded the Celtics 48-37. During the winning streak, the Celtics finished with more rebounds than their opponents in 15 of the 16 victories. Hassan Whiteside led that effort with 10 rebounds.
“It wasn't just specific to them, we've been getting our [butts] kicked on the glass, 50-50,” Spoelstra said. “Our identity is to be tough and we haven't shown that consistently enough. For pockets here and there, and, again, it's that kind of effort to get a six-point win. Nothing is guaranteed but that has to be what we have to embrace all the time.”
Kelly Olynyk scored only six points, but was a big factor offensively against his former team with a plus/minus of plus-17 in 19 minutes and 52 seconds. Olynyk six rebounds, two assists and with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter drove to the hoop and finished with an uncontested two-hand dunk.