Miami Heat

Five takeaways from Heat-Pistons: There are no must-wins this early, but Miami needed this one

Erik Spoelstra speaks after Heat’s overtime win over Pistons

Erik Spoelstra speaks after the Heat’s overtime win over the Pistons.
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Erik Spoelstra speaks after the Heat’s overtime win over the Pistons.

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 120-115 overtime win over the Detroit Pistons (4-5) on Monday at Little Caesars Arena.

1. This was a much-needed victory. Must-win games in November don’t exist in the NBA. But this was still a win the Heat (4-5) desperately needed after dropping three straight.

Not only would a loss have dropped the Heat to 3-6, but it would have hurt even more because of the way it unfolded. Miami was ahead by 12 points with 8:30 to play, and Detroit closed the period on a 21-9 run to force overtime. Dwyane Wade missed two free throws in regulation that would have put the Heat up four with 19.6 seconds to play, setting up Andre Drummond’s game-tying tip-in with 0.5 seconds to force extra time.

This one would have been painful. Instead, the Heat escaped another close game with a feel-good win that sends the team into a four-game homestand with some sort of momentum.

“These guys have been through a lot the last few days,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They really came with a much better competitive spirit for 53 minutes, and it’s hard to win in this league. And it’s even harder to win on the road. We had to finally get some stops there at the end.

“It was unfortunate the way regulation ended up, with an opportunity up four just to be able to finish it off with one or two stops. We weren’t able to do it, but things happen in this league. You have to show some resilience and some grit, and our guys really showed that.”

After playing in a league-high 53 clutch games — defined by the NBA as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter — last season, six of the Heat’s first nine games this season have fallen in the clutch category. Miami is 3-3 in those games.

2. How about Josh Richardson. The Heat has definitely given Richardson more responsibility on offense this season, but it’s becoming clearer each game that he’s also taken a big jump.

Richardson, 25, turned in another standout performance on both ends of the court Monday, finishing with a game-high 27 points on 11-21 shooting to go with eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 38 minutes. His play down the stretch was even more impressive than that complete-game stat line, as he scored 16 on 6-of-12 shooting from the start of the fourth quarter to the end of overtime.

Richardson is now averaging 21.4 points on 43.9 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, one steal and 1.1 blocks in nine games this season. He leads the Heat in points, shot attempts per game (17.2) and touches per game (69.5) this season. Richardson didn’t lead the team in any of those categories last year.

“This is the first time he’s been called on to do this,” Wade said of Richardson’s offensive growth. “It’s something we all celebrated here and wanted him to do it. It’s still impressive. The shots he was taking in overtime and making, those are big-time shots. Not a lot of players can do it that way. We want him to continue to have the confidence to take it to the next level, and we’re going to need it.”

On top of all that, Richardson is usually asked to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player. And he’s been effective on that end, too, as he’s limited those he’s defended to 43 percent shooting — 2.5 percent worse than those players’ normal shooting percentage – this season.

The Heat needed more from Richardson on the offensive end, and he’s doing more to start this season.

“He was exerting a great deal of energy,” Spoelstra said of Richardson’s performance against Detroit. “He actually asked to come out of the game in the first half, which he normally doesn’t. That’s what it might require. It may require guarding the best wings every single night as hard as you can, carrying a bigger offensive load and doing that for big minutes, the most minutes of anyone on the team. Welcome to this league and more responsibility. He’s capable of it.”

3. The Heat’s defense made an appearance in Detroit. After allowing an average of 123.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting over its previous three games – all losses – Miami finally turned in a quality defensive performance.

The Heat limited the Pistons to 41.3 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers. Based on defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), Monday marked Miami’s second-best defensive performance of the season. The Heat recorded a defensive rating of 100 against the Pistons, second only the 86.1 defensive rating Miami finished with in its 110-87 blowout win over the Knicks on Oct. 24.

“That’s what we hang our hats on,” Heat forward Justise Winslow said. “We got a lot of tough guys, defensive minded guys. We just got to get back to who we are. We’re going to score enough points. But I think the big thing tonight was we got stops when we needed to and it paid off.”

4. The Heat didn’t have an answer for Drummond. With Hassan Whiteside unavailable due to injury, Miami started Bam Adebayo in his place at center. Drummond won the matchup, with 25 points and 24 rebounds.

Drummond leads the NBA in rebounding, so those numbers aren’t surprising. But it would have been fun to watch Whiteside, who is second in rebounds per game, face Drummond. Instead, Detroit finished with a 60-50 rebounding edge over Miami. It’s just the second time this season the Heat has been outrebounded in a game.

Whiteside missed the game due to a right knee injury he suffered in Saturday’s loss to the Hawks. When will Whiteside return? He’s considered day-to-day and will undergo tests in Miami on Tuesday to further evaluate the issue. Whiteside is hopeful he’ll be able to play in Wednesday’s home game against the Spurs.

5. Wade moved up a spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. A driving layup with 9:44 remaining in the second quarter Monday pushed Wade past Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler for sole possession of 30th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“Every time you pass one of the greats — I’m not going to say, ‘pass,’ but you move up the ladder with some of the greats of the game — it’s definitely an accomplishment,” Wade said. “It’s definitely not something that you aim for, but it’s something in the same breath is always cool.”

Wade has a chance to catch No. 29 Elgin Baylor in his final NBA season, but it’s not going to be easy. Wade needs to average 12.9 points over the final 73 games to do it.

Wade (scored 18 Monday) is averaging 14.3 points this season, so he’s set a good pace for himself.

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