There’s something organically appealing about this Heat team that all those championship teams never had.
Sure, the Heat and its fans would trade rings for rawness in a nanosecond, but there was never a moment during the past four years with LeBron James when regular-season games felt quite like this. The Heat is winning in a different kind of way this season (ugly), and under completely different circumstances (desperation), and all that grind and toil is developing a grassroots appreciation that those Big 3 teams never really knew.
That sounds corny, sure, and especially with this being Miami, of all places, where they tell us ad nauseam that it’s all about the stars and cheap thrills, but the Heat’s 94-93 victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena was just plain fun in a way all those glamour games couldn’t be.
Say what you want about the helter-skelter element of these early season Heat victories, but the drama of chaos, clumsy finishes and general basketball carnage is without question more exciting than the general apathy of last year’s regular season. When a team isn’t always expected to win, the energy in a building is different when it actually does.
That’s the Heat right now, and, oh yeah, with a record of 8-6 this ragtag group of injured players is, for now, better than James’ Cleveland Cavaliers (5-7).
The Heat trailed by eight points with less than seven minutes to play but battled back and then won in dramatic fashion when the Hornets (4-10) missed two shots from close range in the game’s final seconds. By some wizardly force, that put-back-tip attempt by Hornets center Al Jefferson rimmed out at the buzzer.
Kemba Walker missed a floater moments earlier, and Jefferson got the jump on the Heat’s entire defense. The Hornets’ big man did everything right, but the ball touched the rim twice and hopped out like magic.
“I’m just glad we won, for real,” Chris Bosh said. “It was just one of those games.”
Was it ever.
Bosh swished a baseline jumper with 31 seconds left to give the Heat its 94-93 lead, and Miami then got what should have been the game-winning defensive stop seconds later when Walker missed an eight-foot jumper. But victory is never a sure thing with this Heat team, no matter the circumstances, and especially with Dwyane Wade still out with a hamstring injury and Norris Cole missing time with a sore finger. To compound the injury woes, Chris Andersen went out with a sprained ankle in the first quarter and never returned.
Despite all that, the Heat looked like it was going to win when Luol Deng came down with the rebound and the lead with 24.9 seconds and passed to guard Mario Chalmers, who had raced down the court. But the Hornets’ Walker then forced a turnover at midcourt and forward Lance Stephenson came away with the ball. After everything, the Heat was suddenly in danger of losing its fourth consecutive game at home.
Deng led the Heat with 26 points and Bosh and Chalmers each scored 20. Chalmers had that frightening turnover, yes, but he’s the reason the Heat at a chance at the end. Filling in for Wade as the Heat’s primary perimeter threat, Chalmers had 12 points in the fourth quarter. Rookie reserve point guard Shabazz Napier had 14 points, including five in the final period.
“I felt good just knowing that I’m one of the go-to guys at the end,” said Chalmers, who was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in the final period. “It just puts more trust in my coaches and teammates that even when D-Wade gets back that we got guys we can all trust at the end.”
The Heat shot 50 percent from the field with Deng going 10 of 14 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range. Led by Napier’s 4-of-5 shooting performance, the Heat was 11 of 23 from three-point range.
Jefferson led the Hornets with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Stephenson had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. Walker was 6 of 15 from the field for 16 points. He also had seven rebounds, but was outplayed at the point-guard position by Chalmers, who had 10 assists.
The game was getting away from the Heat midway through the fourth quarter when Bosh slammed the ball against the court after another basket by Jefferson from close range. Moments later, Bosh missed a hook shot on the opposite end of the court and then slapped his hands together angrily as he hustled back for defense.
A game against the team formerly known at the Bobcats probably wouldn’t have elicited so much emotion from Bosh so early in the season last year, but the Heat needs all the wins it can get against inferior competition in this new age of uncertainty. A three-pointer by Bosh with 5:54 remaining cut the Hornets’ lead to four points and Napier made two clutch free throws to make it a one-possession game. Napier followed with a three-pointer to cap the quick run, and put the Heat back on top with 5:12 remaining.