Another solid early-season performance by Rodney McGruder ended on a somber note.
With the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets tied in the waning seconds on Saturday night — after the Heat rallied from being down by 26 points midway through the third quarter, no less — McGruder was called for a questionable shooting foul while defending Kemba Walker with 0.5 seconds left.
Walker went to the line, sank his first free throw and essentially walked the Hornets off to a 113-112 win in the Heat’s home opener.
Coach Erik Spoelstra, unprompted, took the blame for how the final seconds unfolded.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I apologized to Rodney first of all,” Spoelstra said. “I’ll have to take a look at it, but I thought he just did a great job there at the end against a perennial All-Star. To have the game end like that, it’s unfortunate.”
Especially considering how important McGruder was for the Heat once again on Saturday. The 27-year-old posted his first career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He played a career-high 42 minutes on Saturday night with teammates in foul trouble early.
McGruder was a rare sight of consistency in the first half for the Heat, scoring 14 points and sinking four threes during a span in which the Heat went into the locker room down 72-52. He played the entire second half.
“He always has been a winner,” Spoelstra said. “Now he’s becoming a very good skilled basketball player and he can hurt you in a lot of different ways, and he did that tonight. He was tracking down rebounds, tracking down loose balls, hitting big threes, making plays off the dribble. He’s improved in all of those areas, and he’ll continue to improve. He’ll look much different three or four months from now.”
McGruder’s already looking different. He’s more confident. He’s more aggressive. And he’s by far more productive than he’s ever been.
Three games into his third NBA season after a stellar run in the G-league, McGruder is averaging 15.7 points per game on a 50-percent shooting clip. Yes, it’s still early, but McGruder is well on pace to shatter just about every single-season best mark of his young career.
Saturday’s 19-point outing followed a 20-point performance against the Washington Wizards on Thursday. McGruder never scored more than 15 points in an NBA game before this two-game stretch.
“He’s kind of the ideal player for the Miami Heat,” shooting guard Dwyane Wade said. “The guy doesn’t say much. He works hard on both ends of the floor and everyone loves him here. To go out there and have the start of the season that he’s having, you’re just happy for somebody like that. We need him with so many guys down and he’s stepping up.”