Five takeaways from the Heat’s 117-111 comeback victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday, which prevented Miami from dropping back-to-back games to teams with losing records.
1. Tyler Johnson has huge third quarter, avoids further dental trauma. First he took over the third quarter. Then he went crashing face-first onto the court. Then he stayed in the game, collecting a game-sealing rebound in the closing seconds and helped the Heat avoid what would have been disappointing defeats in back-to-back games.
Johnson scored 22 of his season-high 31 points in the third quarter on 10 of 11 shooting to help the Heat eventually erase what was an 18-point deficit earlier in the quarter. And his lone miss was a rushed and contested jumper as he tried to beat the buzzer.
“Tyler was tremendous,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was the player of the game for us. [We] barely took him out in the second half. I thought it was fitting that he capped it with that rebound at the end, a tremendous effort on his part. Really inspiring. Other guys wanted to step up for him.”
And Johnson kept his remaining front teeth in the process.
Known for his gap-tooth smile, the Heat’s 25-year old guard crashed face first onto the floor after drawing contact with 5:34 to go in the fourth quarter. But Johnson remained in the game after a timeout and emerged with all his chompers intact.
“This one almost came out,” Johnson said. “I had to mess with it a little bit to try and get it back right. So I may have to go see somebody. I don’t think I could do without two front teeth.”
It was a good thing for Miami that Johnson stayed in the game.
Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who finished with 39 points, launched a three from the top of the key with 15 seconds remaining that would have tied the game, but missed.
Johnson collected the rebound and nailed a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach.
Johnson joked after the game that he wouldn’t like having to deal with two missing front teeth.
“First, I was trying to score,” Johnson said about the play. “Then I was just trying to make sure that my tooth didn’t fall out, because I can deal with one missing tooth. But like I said, two missing front teeth would have looked pretty ridiculous.”
2. Heat stop Magic’s running game in the second half and halt Orlando’s dominance in the paint. The Heat gave up an astonishing 24 fast break points to the Magic in the first half. It was a different story in the second half as the Heat allowed only two as it outscored Orlando 67-45 in the second half.
“We were talking how they were running us out of the gym,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t seem to stop anything they were doing in transition. It was hard to an offensive rhythm because we were using all our energy trying to run back on defense. So we just started communicating a little better, getting our matchups and it went from there.”
The Heat also slowed the Magic down in the paint where Gordon and Bismack Biyombo thrived in the first half. After being outscored 36-24 in the paint through the first two quarters, the Heat outscored the Magic 30-14 in the paint the rest of the way to finish with a 54-50 advantage in that category.
“They play super fast, up-tempo,” Kelly Olynyk said. “They get it and go and kind of pitch ahead and throw it to anybody. You know you won’t guard the same guy you’re matched up against the whole game so just kind of locked in on that. And offensively it was just sticking to making stuff happen for others, setting good screens and playing with a high motor and movement and going from good to great.”
3. Players spoke up at halftime and the message translated to the court. Spoelstra said after the game he stayed quiet at the break and let the players themselves figure out what needed to be corrected.
“At this point in the season there is not much we have to drill that’s new,” Spoelstra said. “Probably you can say that for every team. You know your system at this point, it’s a matter of doing it in competition and when somebody’s coming at you and now you’re dealing with officials, you’re dealing with team’s scoring. You’re dealing with things not necessarily going your way. So what! Do your job and that’s what halftime was all about. The guys knew exactly what all the things were. I didn’t have to list anything. At that point they were able to hold themselves accountable and take ownership of it.”
Team captain Udonis Haslem said: “The game is always going to be played between the lines with the players. There’s only so much coaches can do. Coaches can’t control the effort area, just getting back in transition is two things, it’s just effort and communication.”
4. It was a good night for Goran Dragic’s shots to start falling consistently again. If there was an unsung hero in Saturday’s game it was Dragic’s jump shot. Dragic, who had shot 14 of 45 (31.1 percent) in three games since returning from his left elbow injury, shot 11 of 22 against Orlando and hit the go-ahead runner with 2:04 left that put the Heat ahead for good.
“It’s great, but the most important thing, what I’m happy is that we won that game,” said Dragic, who finished with 25 points.
Dragic said that he didn’t notice any flaws in his shot in recent games despite the inaccuracies.
“I mean I’m looking at tape and all my shots that I was missing were my shots, they just didn’t go in,” Dragic said. “You know I went through some tough moments but sooner or later the luck gonna change and tonight was a good day for me and the team. You know, just tried to stay positive and that’s it.”
5. Hassan Whiteside records a career-high in assists as he adjusts to recent changes in Heat’s offense. Whiteside hadn’t had multiple assists in a game this season. On Saturday, he had more than one and eclipsed his career-high with four. So is this something Whiteside can sustain as the Heat continues to trend toward having its big men become more facilitators?
“It always looks better when the guys are making shots,” Whiteside said. “Passing always looks way better. So it’s fun to score them guys out there scoring like that.”
Playing his third game back since ending a 13-game absence due to the bone bruises in his left knee, Whiteside finished with nine points and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes and 39 seconds – the most he’s played since coming back.
Whiteside was not pleased when he was pulled from the game with 4:36 left in the first quarter and stayed on the bench until the 6:10 mark of the second. He also played key five minutes and 34 seconds in the fourth quarter as Miami closed out the win.
Whiteside got rid of the knee brace he had been using after he came out of the game and said after the game he felt fine without it.
“I know those guys want me to wear it,” Whiteside said. “I feel fine without it. I felt like it kept hitting my other leg, so I feel like I move better without it.”