One thing the Miami Heat was able to avoid as it has climbed the Eastern Conference standings over the past six weeks was back-to-back losses – despite injuries, shorthanded lineups or the rigors of a heavy travel schedule.
That run was about to come to an end Saturday night in Charlotte before Miami pulled off one of its most miraculous finishes in recent memory.
Trailing by five points with 37.2 seconds to play, James Johnson dunked on a smartly-called play out of a timeout. Then, he hit a three-pointer off a Josh Richardson steal 3.7 seconds later to tie it before Kelly Olynyk made a free throw with two-tenths of a second to play as the Heat pulled off a 106-105 stunner over the Hornets at the Spectrum Center.
Olynyk scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and went to the line after he was fouled by Dwight Howard driving toward the basket. Olynyk grabbed a defensive rebound off a Kemba Walker missed jumper with 3.6 seconds left and drove the length of the floor before Howard fouled him.
“That’s what you dream about,” Olynyk said of his winning free throw, which came after he clanked the first free throw attempt off the back of the rim. “That was a tough effort to climb back into that game. Guys made big-time plays, big time shots. Just to be in that position, we were blessed. This is one we needed on the road.”
The night began with bad news for Miami as point guard Goran Dragic was surprisingly scratched from Miami’s lineup with a bruised left knee about an hour before tip-off. But Miami (27-19) still got off to a good start.
Miami led 57-48 at the half and by as many as 11 points after shooting 51 percent and turning it over only three times in the first half – quite an accomplishment considering the team’s primary ball-handlers Saturday were Richardson, Johnson, Justise Winslow and Derrick Walton Jr.
But it all started to unravel and look bleak for the Heat after that. Miami turned it over nine times in the third quarter and Charlotte (18-26) outscored the Heat 35-16 in the period. But after Charlotte took a 101-91 lead on a Kemba Walker stepback jumper with 4:03 to play the Heat began its comeback with Wayne Ellington, Johnson, Richardson, Olynyk and rookie Bam Adebayo on the floor.
Ellington, making his first start this season and part of the Heat’s 15th different starting lineup thus far, led Miami with 26 points and three assists in 36 minutes. Richardson, usually the Heat’s starting small forward, had 17 points, five assists and three turnovers running Miami’s offense for most of the night.
Johnson had 22 points, six rebounds and led the Heat with seven assists in 29 minutes. Hassan Whiteside had 10 points and 14 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench, but didn’t play a minute in the fourth quarter as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra turned to Olylyk (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Adebayo (6 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) as his big men down the stretch.
Miami concludes its five-game road trip Monday night in Houston.
▪ Spoelstra said Dragic initially bruised his left knee in Wednesday’s win in Milwaukee and then aggravated it in Friday’s loss at Brooklyn. “It was below the pad,” Spoelstra said pregame. “That’s all I have for you.”
Miami is now 4-9 dating back to last season when Dragic doesn’t play.