There was a moment in the first half of the Heat’s Tuesday night game against the Rockets when Houston center Dwight Howard looked over at Miami’s bench and shot Chris Bosh a telling look.
It’s no secret that the Rockets wanted Bosh this summer and that a move by Bosh to Houston would have made Howard’s team an instant title contender. Howard could still be a contender, but there was certainly a compelling subplot inside AmericanAirlines Arena other than just a game between two of the final remaining undefeated teams in the NBA.
The Rockets wanted this one badly, and they got it, defeating the Heat 108-91 on the second night of an away back-to-back.
“Look, we were hoping to have Chris,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said before the game, “but he chose Miami.”
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Bosh and the Heat (3-1) pumped some unexpected buzz into the early season schedule with gimmie games against the weakened Wizards, inexperienced Sixers and Toronto Raptors, but all that floating hope fell flatly back to earth in the fourth quarter against the Rockets (5-0). Houston outscored the Heat 25-14 in the final period with the home team going 4 of 20 from the field in the final quarter.
“That’s tough at the end,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Probably more mental breakdowns at the end than anything physical … some unusual mental breakdowns.”
Howard led the Rockets with 25 points, going 10 of 16 from the field to go along with 10 rebounds. James Harden had 25 points and his second-chance effort put the Rockets ahead 95-86 with 5:19 to play. Harden tipped in his own miss amid the floundering arms of Heat defenders and the bearded All-Star screamed to the rafters after the play.
The Rockets’ offense is simple enough, but effective. It’s either Howard inside, a three-pointer by one of the Rockets’ shooters or a driving layup attempt by Harden. It all worked to perfection late in the game. Overall, Houston was 17 of 37 from three-point range and 21 of 27 from the free-throw line.
“We had some mental breakdowns on four three-pointers when we weren’t really guarding anybody,” Spoelstra said.
Deadeye shooter Trevor Ariza was 5 of 8 from three-pointer range for Houston, Harden was 3 of 7 and point guard Patrick Beverley was 4 of 7 from distance. Beverley had 15 points and Ariza finished with 19.
“They’re going to jack those threes and they can hit them,” Bosh said.
Beverley drained back-to-back corner three-pointers with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter to give the Rockets’ a 77-64 lead. The Heat cutBeverley from its preseason roster way back in 2010, and Beverley has used that snub as motivation ever since.
The professional defensive irritant has improved his offensive game substantially since his Heat tryout, and he pumped his fist after the first three-pointer went down.
Bosh finished with 21 points, giving him at least 20 points in each of the first four games of the Heat’s season. He was 8 of 14 from the field, 2 of 4 from three-point range and 3 of 5 from the free-throw line. Wade had 19 points, but 15 of those came in the first half. The Heat’s shooting guard was 2 of 5 from the field in the second half and 0 of 2 from three-point range.
“We just ran out of gas in the end, and they had more than we did,” Bosh said.
Heat forward Luol Deng had 10 points in the first half but finished with 11. He injured his arm in the second half, and did not play in the fourth quarter.
The Heat plays in Charlotte on Wednesday, and rookie James Ennis could start at small forward if Deng is unable to play. Forward Danny Granger could be an option, but he has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
The Heat shot 41.9 percent overall, including 33.3 percent in the second half. Houston outscored Miami 36-18 in the paint.
Heat starting power forward Shawne Williams scored in double figures for the third consecutive game, finishing with 14 points.
He was 3 of 4 from three-point range. Back-up-for-now Josh McRoberts played less than six minutes and didn’t score. The Heat was 12 of 28 from three-point range as a team, but went 17 of 27 from the free-throw line.