The opportunities to make a game-winning basket in crunch time haven’t presented themselves very often for Goran Dragic since he’s been with the Miami Heat.
On Friday night, though, the opportunity did present itself, and the 31-year-old All-Star delivered, getting a 10-foot floater to fall with 15.2 seconds to play to beat the Lakers 92-91 at Staples Center. As surprising as that might be, that was the first time in his 236 games with the Heat that Dragic made what turned out to be the decisive basket with under 30 seconds to play in regulation or overtime.
“The last three games, I have really had a lot of confidence,” Dragic said. “Sometimes you know when D-Wade is out, Hassan and J-Rich [were out last] game, I have to be aggressive, I need to make things happen. I’m just doing my job, nothing special.”
In his first season and a half, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh around, Dragic didn’t take any shots with the Heat either tied or trailing by two points or less and with 30 seconds or less on the clock until Game 5 of a first-round series against the Hornets. Dragic missed a corner three-pointer with 7.6 seconds to play, Wade grabbed the rebound but missed his shot, and the Heat ended up losing 90-88.
Last season, Dragic missed a three-pointer at the end of regulation in an overtime loss to Orlando and then another shot at a game-winner in Detroit that Hassan Whiteside tipped in for the victory.
This season, Dragic made a layup in Toronto to put the Heat ahead with 19 seconds to go, but Wayne Ellington ended up making the game-winning layup. Then, in an overtime loss to New Orleans right after the All-Star break, Dragic sent the game to an extra period with a putback layup with 14 seconds to go. But Anthony Davis led the Pelicans to victory as Wade and Josh Richardson took and missed the final two shots in overtime.
Then Wednesday in Sacramento, after scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Heat from a 16-point deficit and force overtime, Dragic had an opportunity to tie the score at 119 but missed a 10-foot turnaround shot with 21 seconds left and the Kings went on to win.
On Friday, though, he delivered, finishing with 30 points. It also turned out to be the first time this season that the Heat won when Dragic scored at least 30. Miami was 0-4 before that.
“He’s been playing like that for a while — even with Dwyane,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Dragic’s ability to step up late in games. “We need Dwyane and Goran playing at an extremely high level, both of them, at the same time. Before Dwyane got hurt, I loved where our team was offensively. We had great balance, and I’m sure it was probably on opponents’ minds. OK, we have to cover Dwyane, [Wayne] Ellington and down the line. The more weapons you have, the better chance you have.
“But Goran was simply desperate on this road trip. He’s playing with an urgency that we need right now to get to the finish line. All these games are so important. That’s his form of leadership, letting guys know that he’s playing at his highest level of play.”
On the three-game road trip alone, Dragic averaged 28.7 points per game on 55.4 percent shooting. He was also 7 of 14 on three-pointers.
“That’s what leaders do,” James Johnson said of Dragic. “He’s a captain, and he’s an All-Star. Sometimes you got to make All-Star plays for your team, and he came through. Not surprising to us. That’s what he’s been doing all year, and he wanted continue doing that.”
Friday night’s win avenged an ugly 131-113 loss to the Lakers in Miami, ended a nine-game road losing streak and put the Heat (37-33) 6 1/2 games ahead of Detroit (30-39) for the final playoff spot in the East with 12 to go. The Heat plays eight of its final dozen games at home including Monday against Denver (38-32).
The Heat still has hopes of climbing the standings and finishing with a top four seed in the East, which brings home-court advantage in round one of the playoffs. But it’s going to take a lot of winning and some help down the stretch.
Miami trails third-seeded Cleveland (40-29) by 3 1/2 games and fourth-seeded Washington (40-30) by three games with Indiana (40-30), Philadelphia (38-30) and Milwaukee (37-32) also ahead of them in the standings and fighting for seeding.
“When we were in fourth, we wanted more,” Johnson said. “At seven, we’re not settling; eight, we’re not settling. We want to be the best team we can possible be at the end of this season and go from there.”