Erik Spoelstra will have to wait another day before he catches his mentor Pat Riley for the most regular season wins in Heat history.
The Miami Heat’s quest to climb back above .500 failed Wednesday night after Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers turned it up in the fourth quarter and rallied past the Heat 102-95.
Lillard, who lit up Miami for 49 points in a win at AmericanAirlines Arena last year, scored nine of his 18 points in the final period. With the score tied at 95 with 2:46 remaining, Lillard drove to the basket, hit a layup and drew a foul on Goran Dragic. After Dragic missed a pullup jumper, Lillard drove to the basket again and drew a foul on rookie Bam Adebayo before sinking what amounted to the clinching free throws with 1:02 to play.
“You’re not guaranteed when you get up 16 [in the first half] you’re going to be able to stay up,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’re a very good team. They’re a desperate team. They had lost five straight before that. It really came down to better, more intentional, more purposeful execution going down the stretch. They executed.
“We had opportunities and we didn't get quite the shots that we wanted to. We missed a couple free throws. They made theirs and that’s the way it went. Really you almost hate seeing [Lillard] have a pedestrian boxscore statline going into the fourth quarter. You know he’s not going to sit back and not put his fingerprints on the game going down the stretch and he certainly did that.”
Miami (13-14) led 79-70 after three quarters – and by as many as 16 in the first half – thanks in large part to 24 points and seven three-pointers from Wayne Ellington off the bench. But after scoring 21 in the first half on 7 of 8 shooting, the Blazers made sure to keep Ellington from getting open off screens over the final two quarters.
Ellington finished 1 of 3, sinking his only bucket in the second half on a three-pointer with 5:56 to play to Miami up 91-89.
“When you make some shots in the first half they’re going to stick to you in the second half,” said Ellington, whose career high in a Heat uniform prior to Wednesday’s outburst was 22 points. “I expected that. They weren’t letting me get as many clean looks off. That’s the way the game goes.”
The Heat played shorthanded all night. Not only did Hassan Whiteside miss his seventh consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee, but Tyler Johnson was unable to play because of a migraine headache. Then, forward Justise Winslow exited with a left knee strain midway through the second quarter.
“It got increasingly tight before the game and I tried to give it a go,” Winslow said. “But it’s just tight and I didn’t want to take away from the team. So I just removed myself.”
Dion Waiters had 17 points, but was 6 of 18 shooting. Dragic had 11 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
Both missed key free throws down the stretch. Miami finished 13 of 24 from the line in the loss.
““We played 46 minutes of good basketball. I feel as though down the stretch the calls didn’t go our way. But we just got to do a better job of just playing 48 minutes all the way through. I feel as though we did a great job when we were playing defensive wise, but those guys made shots. They made big time shots. I got to do a better job coming out with that aggressive mindset and just being aggressive, and just getting everybody else involved also. But I just got to come out with a mindset where I set the tone and that’s the main focus.”
Miami is now 12-3 this season when it leads after three quarters.