Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 103-102 comeback win over the Utah Jazz, which extended the Heat’s winning streak to a season-best four games and moved it into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference:
1. One game after Wayne Ellington shot a franchise-record 16 threes and the Heat hoisted up a club-record 42 attempts, Miami’s dangerous three-point threat played a key role without the ball on Miami’s game-winner against the Utah Jazz.
Trailing by a point with 7.8 seconds to go, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a perfect play that fooled the Jazz into thinking Goran Dragic may go to Ellington for a corner three to try and take the lead. As the Jazz defense bit toward Ellington, Goran Dragic inbounded the ball to Josh Richardson at the top of the key and raced past Derrick Favors to the basket and scored the winning layup with 5.1 seconds remaining. The bucket delivered the Heat’s season-high fourth consecutive win and a third consecutive victory at home by single digits this week.
It was the Heat’s first four-game win streak with each game decided by single-digits since 2012.
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“It was up to [Dragic] to make the decision,” Spoelstra said. “There were some layers to that. But even getting before that, off the rebound, we had gotten some good looks just by getting up the court. So Goran knew he could just push and probe and see if we could get a cheap one.”
Despite Spoelstra joking pregame that he hoped Ellington would shoot up to 20 threes, he only put up six attempts from that range and made three of them on Sunday to finish with nine points in 31-plus minutes.
Ellington felt gratified he got that kind of respect from the defense in a clutch situation like that.
“Whenever you get that type of respect from your opponent obviously that’s what it’s about,” Ellington said. “When you can be a guy on the court and the play is running opposite from you but your man and the rest of the team is concerned about you and where you’re at on the floor it helps, it helps our team.
“I feel like I’m doing my job when that happens. When I come off somebody hard and they fake it to me and they get a wide open layup, I’m doing my job.”
2. While many teams in the NBA have one or two go-to players, the Heat is getting its offense collectively as it did Sunday. Six Heat players including Richardson scored in double figures on Sunday to key the Heat’s first victory at home this season after trailing entering the fourth quarter.
Richardson finished with 14 points and seven assists, while Tyler Johnson (7 of 13 shooting) and Goran Dragic (6 of 18 shooting) matched each other with a team-high 16 points. James Johnson grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds off the bench and scored 13 points. Hassan Whiteside finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks and Kelly Olynyk added 12 points.
“We’re not stealing this term from another team that’s pretty good, but we are a team that has strength in numbers,” Spoelstra said. “But eventually guys start to emerge, as well. And when we do have a balanced attack, everybody will feel involved and everybody can be a threat. There will be different guys on different nights. That’s probably when we’re at our best. But like I said, guys can grow and emerge into bigger roles as the season goes on and guys gain confidence.”
3. While it was a collective output on offense, Richardson stepped up as the closer on the offensive and defensive end for Miami.
Before the game, Spoelstra praised Richardson for his defense and said while he thinks he may garner All-Star consideration someday, he deserves All-NBA defensive accolades right now.
Richardson may not have had the chance to win the game with a layup had he not forced a key turnover with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter while defending Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell. Richardson swiped the ball from Mitchell and then both dove for the ball as it rolled out of bounds. After a quick review, the referees ruled Mitchell had last touched it giving possession to the Heat keeping it a one-possession game at the time.
Richardson’s efforts keyed the Heat’s defense, which allowed Utah to score only two points over the final two minutes and three seconds of play.
“We want to be more open to even more,” Spoelstra said of Richardson’s overall game. “Like I said, the next step, it’s there. It’s there for him. It’s just a matter of when he’s going to step up and grab it. I think he would be considered right now All-Defensive NBA. It’s just our defense has been too inconsistent. It’s hard to make that case. We don’t have a top-five defensive team. If we had the defense we had last year, I would be pounding down everybody’s door, this guy has to be on one of the two teams. He’s shown that night in, night out, to guard one through four, to make big time defensive plays.
“What he’s showing right now is the energy and the stamina and the high level of conditioning that he can shoulder a lot on the other end now, as well. He can make a lot of plays for us, get us organized and play right now, while we have guys out, play near 40 minutes every single night and not even feel it. I tell him all the time, 25 years old, you’ve got everything right in front of you. You don’t get tired and you want everything right now. You want all the great matchups, you want the ball in your hands at the end of the game, you want these opportunities and J-Rich is very deserving of all this right now.”
4. Although Whiteside has strong start, Heat goes with small lineup again in the clutch. Whiteside got off to a strong start on Sunday with a pair of blocked shots early and finished with four rejections overall in 25 minutes and 45 seconds. But much like it did in its overtime win against the Knicks on Friday, the Heat went with a smaller lineup down the stretch of Olynyk, Ellington, Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Dragic with James Johnson as the only substitute. Whiteside sat out the final four minutes and 36 seconds.
“You know, I can play on the perimeter, too,” Whiteside said. “It’s whatever Coach wants. I work on my game all the time. But if he wants them lineups out there or whatever, I just leave the decision-making to him.”
5. Pack your parkas, Heat, you’re going to need them as 11 of the next 14 are on the road with plenty of stops at cold-weather sites. The Heat is getting more consistent at home, but it will need to continue to be good away from Miami in the coming weeks if its to keep climbing the Eastern Conference standings. First stop is Toronto as Miami begins a journey to the frigid north with back-to-back games against the Raptors and Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and Wednesday. After one home game against the Bucks, the Heat has a five-game trip at Chicago, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Houston and following a pair of home games after that, another four-game swing at Dallas, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Detroit.
The Heat improved to 11-9 at home with Sunday’s win, and is 11-8 on the road.
“We’re road warriors, man,” James Johnson said. “Our road record is better than our home record, so we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, staying together, being confident, feeding energy to guys and going from there, one game at a time, one stop at a time.”