Losing twice at home to Philadelphia during this era of unspeakably awful 76ers basketball is embarrassing enough.
Losing three times would have been genuinely horrifying.
The Heat barely avoided that fate, rallying from 17 down overall, and storming back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter, to beat the 76ers 96-91 on Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Dwyane Wade scored 27, and Hassan Whiteside came close to another triple double (13 points, nine rebounds, eight blocks).
Meanwhile, the Heat defense was stifling down the stretch, with the 76ers scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-19 shooting.
“This is not how you would design it, but I did like seeing the toughness in the fourth quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There was a little bit of tension. Guys didn’t like the way the game was going. Our most passionate basketball was the fourth quarter, particularly rebounding and loose balls. I did like seeing us respond to that kind of adversity.”
Chris Bosh struggled with his shot (3 for 11) on a 13-point night but hit a big three late. Miami (8-4) overcame another quiet night from Goran Dragic (six points) and 14 missed free throws on 45 attempts.
The defeat pushed the 76ers’ losing streak over two seasons to 24, two short of equaling the NBA record. Their 14 losses to start a season are four short of matching the Nets’ NBA record.
Wade said teams “absolutely don’t” want to be the 76ers’ first loss.
They’re “a team that shouldn’t beat you on your home floor,” he said. “We’re still growing. You have to go through moments like that to learn the team you have.”
Down 87-76 with 7:14 left, the Heat unleashed an 8-0 run, during the midst of a stretch when Philadelphia coach Brett Brown decided to have his players intentionally foul Whiteside to send him to the line — a curious strategy with a double-digit lead.
Whiteside responded by making 4 of 6 free throws, and Justise Winslow scored five in a row (the last two off a terrific alley-oop from Wade).
With Miami down three, Bosh and Wade each missed three-pointers before Bosh nailed one to tie it at 89 with 2:40 left.
Gerald Green then put Miami ahead with two free throws with 1:25 left, and a Winslow tip-in made it 93-89 with 51 seconds to go. Green hit three more throws to account for Miami’s final points.
Green appears to have misplaced his jump shot since his bizarre condominium incident sidelined him for six games, two because of suspension. He finished 0 for 5 from the field and is now 3 for 16 in three games back.
But he hit the go-ahead free throws, played stout defense and Spoelstra played him down the stretch, along with Dragic, Wade, Bosh and Winslow.
“I was really proud of him in the fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said of Green. “We have been telling him for weeks, ‘Focus on making winning plays.’ Tonight, it happened to be defensive stops, and he … knocked down his free throws down the stretch.”
A 16-0 run late in the first quarter and early in the second gave the 76ers a stunning 33-16 lead — their largest of the season — and they led 47-32 at the half, despite 17 from Wade. Miami shot just 28.2 percent in the first half.
“We weren’t playing up to our standards,” Bosh said. “We had defensive slippage. We weren’t communicating.”
And, as Spoelstra said, “Our offense was pretty inefficient.”
Bosh’s first basket of the game, a three-pointer exactly four minutes into the third quarter, drew Miami within five and soon the margin was two. But the 76ers led 74-67 after three, then pushed the lead to 11 before Miami’s late rally.
Wade kept the Heat afloat all night and moved into 49th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, passing Dale Ellis and Reggie Theus.
The 76ers are 37-141 since the start of the 2013-14 season, and the Heat had lost at home to the Sixers each of the previous two seasons.