A major reason the Miami Heat is in the position it’s in as we approach the All-Star break is how good it has been when games are close late.
But those clutch numbers have been trending the wrong way over the past couple of weeks.
The Heat is 20-11 in clutch games, which the NBA defines as the final five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer.
But the Heat was 18-7 in such games at the tail end of its recent seven-game winning streak.
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Since then Miami has gone 2-4 in clutch games.
Miami built a 12-point lead against the Kings on Thursday night on the strength of an 11-0 run to open the fourth quarter before that potential win slipped away on De’Aaron Fox’s dunk leaping past Goran Dragic with 3.3 seconds left.
“Everything, energy, execution,” Dragic said. “I said to my teammates, ‘It was my bad. On that last play I should have boxed out. I didn’t. I take this loss. It’s on me.’ ”
The troubles really began in Brooklyn when the Heat relinquished a 16-point lead in the second half. The Heat also led the Rockets by as many as 14 early and pulled even with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter before Houston outscored the Heat 11-2 to end that game.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Thursday’s loss that the team’s execution has not been good recently especially in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been terrific in the last six weeks in our fourth-quarter execution,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had a couple of games now where it’s been erratic. The turnovers allowed them to get some breathing room to get some confidence to crawl closer. We had some opportunities with catches in the paint that weren’t strong enough to finish or draw fouls, and then, execution of details, of screening and getting the ball where it needed to go.”
The Heat has been in clutch situations in 31 games so far this season, which is second only to the Brooklyn Nets’ 32.
And entering Friday’s games, Miami is still tied with Boston (20) for the most clutch wins in the league, but ranks fifth in winning percentage in that category behind the Warriors, Celtics, Spurs and Cavaliers.
For the season in clutch games, the Heat is averaging 8.7 points (12th in the NBA), shooting 50.3 percent from the field (second in the league) including a league-best 43.9 percent from three-point range and averaging 1.4 assists (12th) and 1.2 turnovers (22nd) for a plus-minus of 1.5 (fifth-best).
But during the past four such games, the Heat has gone 1-3, barely avoiding a four-game losing skid thanks to James Johnson and Josh Richardson’s heroics in the closing seconds of a win at Charlotte this past Saturday.
During that span, the Heat’s scoring average has dropped to 5.5 points per game (22 points overall) in the clutch, and it has shot 36.4 percent and a dismal 14.3 percent from three-point range. Heat turnovers have increased to 1.7 during that span and assists have dropped to 0.5.
And the Heat’s plus-minus over that span is minus-5, which is second worst in the league, only ahead of the Bulls.
With the exception of Johnson, who has scored 13 of those points in 16 clutch minutes during that span and shot 71.4 percent (5 of 7), no other Heat player has played particularly well down the stretch.
Richardson is 0 for 3 from the field also in 16 clutch minutes, and sharpshooter Wayne Ellington is 0 for 5 (0 for 2 from three). Hassan Whiteside is 2 for 5 in 13 clutch minutes, but turned the ball over three times.
“This is definitely one of those games that we can learn from,” Ellington said after the loss to Sacramento. “We have to learn and take it as a lesson. I am sure we will watch some film and see the areas that we need to improve and where we didn’t do well. We are a better team than what we showed tonight and we have to be able to do that consistently no matter who is out there in front of us.”