Dwyane Wade said it would take a near-perfect effort from his team, plus a rare off-night from the Golden State Warriors, for the Miami Heat to upend the defending NBA champions.
The Heat played that near-perfect game, but Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson still managed to rip Miami’s heart out.
Fueled by 15 consecutive fourth-quarter points from Thompson and a pair of long distance three-pointers from Curry, the Warriors fought off a valiant effort from Wade and the Heat to halt Miami’s three-game winning streak Wednesday night with a heart-stopping 118-112 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“That’s why Steph Curry is who he is,” Wade said of the reigning league MVP, who finished with 42 points and six three-pointers. “He made two daggers, man. We couldn’t play any better than we did.”
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Curry made 14 of his 29 shots and Thompson made 13 of his 25 to finish with 33 points to lead the Warriors (51-5). The duo scored 27 of the Warriors’ final 29 points.
Golden State, which plays 17 of its final 24 games at home this season, is chasing the NBA record for wins (72) set by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Heat, which fell to 32-25 and fourth place in the Eastern Conference, will hit the road this weekend to play a back-to-back in Boston and New York.
Wednesday, Wade led the Heat with a season-high 32 points and seven assists and center Hassan Whiteside came off the bench and finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Whiteside blocked Warriors All-Star forward Draymond Green on a three-point shot late. But the ball caromed to Curry, who knocked down a three-pointer with 39.3 seconds left to give the Warriors a 110-108 lead they would not relinquish.
“I wish I would have just grazed it,” Whiteside said. “I didn’t mean to block it as hard as I did. Unfortunately it went to Steph Curry.”
Wade took a jumper on the Heat’s ensuing possession that rimmed out and the Warriors pounced on the rebound. Golden State closed the game out at the free-throw line after that.
“No moral victories,” said Goran Dragic, who finished with 13 points and seven assists. “It was a tough game. It felt like a playoff game. We played well. They made some big shots. But still, there were some situations we needed to communicate better. On some possessions we made it too easy, left them too open.”
The Heat had won its first three games after the All-Star break and had been playing well despite being short-handed with leading scorer Chris Bosh out. Backup point guard Beno Udrih was then lost for the season in Monday’s overtime win against the Pacers.
Rookie second-round pick Josh Richardson, helping to fill-in for Udrih, hit a career-high three three-pointers and scored 15 points off the bench. He also did a pretty good job defending Curry.
“He was tenacious,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Richardson. “Those are the two toughest covers in the league. It’s not like we were soft on them or making a lot of mistakes. That just shows you the level of skill and relentlessness Curry and Thompson had. Josh was playing 94 feet. He stepped up. He fits our personality, our DNA. This obviously is something we can build on. J-Rich in those minutes made the most of it tonight.”
The Heat led by as many as 14 points in the first half and at times early Wade and Whiteside appeared unguardable.
Wade, who showed plenty of rust (4-of-21 shooting) in his first game back since the All-Star break Monday night against the Pacers, made his first five shots Wednesday night and had 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting by the half.
Whiteside came off the bench with 6:17 in the opening quarter and had 15 points and seven rebounds in a span of 15 minutes. His first basket came with a bonus — it drew a second foul on Green — and turned into a three-point play. Whiteside was looking forward to facing Green, who exchanged barbs with the Heat’s center on Twitter last August.
With Green on the bench, Whiteside went on a personal 8-0 run late in the first quarter to extend the Heat’s lead from four to 12. During his run, he had a vicious dunk and a step-back jumper.
But the Warriors trailed just 55-51 at the half and had the lead again after Curry’s three-pointer with 11:09 left in the third quarter.
“Our guys played their butts off,” Spoelstra said. “I’m proud of them for that kind of effort. It is disappointing we weren’t able to finish.”
Said Wade: “We can play with anyone [if we play] the way we did tonight. We do that the rest of the season we’ll win most of those games.”