During the first time this season when the Heat had its two most accomplished closers on the court at the same time, the irony was that neither Dwyane Wade nor Dion Waiters even got a shot in the final two minutes of Tuesday’s loss to Denver.
Instead, in the final 2:23, Bam Adebayo took three shots (making two of them) and Josh Richardson took two, missing both. Then Kelly Olynyk committed a turnover on a designed but difficult attempted alley-oop to Richardson to try to tie the score with two seconds left.
“Of course, I wanted it,” Waiters said Wednesday of that final inbounds play. “I got a couple steps away from the defender. Who knows what would have happened? But Kelly made the right decision. It was there if he had put a little more air on it and gave Josh a chance.”
For the Heat, how to close out tight games remains very much a work in progress, with Waiters’ return from ankle surgery giving Miami another late-game option.
The Heat is 11-11 in games that have featured “clutch” moments, defined by the NBA as games with a margin of five points or fewer and less than five minutes remaining.
But while the Heat generally has been very good defensively late in close games, its offense has been below average.
The Heat is shooting 12 for 54 on clutch three-pointers, that 22.2 percent ranking ahead of only New Orleans.
Miami is shooting just 67.7 percent on clutch free throws (44 for 65), which is 25th in the league.
The Heat has shot just 40.9 percent from the field in the clutch, which is 21st.
Its 27 clutch turnovers are fifth-most.
But coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team plays host to Boston at 7 p.m. Thursday on TNT, said Wednesday that “our execution has gotten much better [late in games] the last several weeks. [Tuesday night] our execution was pretty good, too.”
Richardson and Wade have combined for 50 percent of the Heat’s shots in clutch time and 47 percent of their points, but neither has been efficient down the stretch.
Richardson (48 clutch points) is shooting 16 of 37 from the field in the clutch (a 43.2 percentage that ranks 60th among NBA guards) and 5 for 16 on threes (31.3 percent).
Wade is shooting 11 for 32 from the field in the clutch (34.4 percent, which is 91st among guards) and just 2 for 11 (18.2 percent) on clutch threes.
No other Heat player has more than 10 clutch shot attempts except Justise Winslow, who is 7 for 19 from the field in the clutch (36.8 percent) and 0 for 6 on threes. Goran Dragic was 3 for 9 in the clutch before his injury.
Waiters would help dramatically in the clutch if he can come close to replicating what he did last season before season-ending ankle surgery. Waiters scored 48 points in 48 clutch minutes last season, shooting 18 for 35 (51.4 percent) from the field and 7 of 14 on threes.
The last time Waiters was healthy, Wade wasn’t on the team and Richardson didn’t have as much experience as a late-game shooter. So this is an adjustment for Waiters. So how should late-game shots get sorted out?
“Whatever coach decides,” Waiters said. “I have all the confidence in the world in D-Wade. Take the shot. It’s one last dance so why not go out with a bang? I don’t have any problem with that at all. Take turns. You get a crack at it, I get a crack at it.”
Waiters appreciates that the Heat has multiple “guys who are willing to step up and take that challenge and not afraid to shy away from the moments. Coach has to be the one to draw the plays up. With D-Wade, we already know what he’s done time in and time out, big-time shots over his career. Josh is developing into that, getting that confidence to take that shot. Myself? Seizing the moment.”
But the issue with Waiters is free-throw shooting. He’s a career 69.8 percent free-throw shooter – well below average for guards – and is 0 for 4 this season, including two clutch misses on Tuesday. He is 6 for 12 on clutch free throws since joining the Heat.
The Heat players shooting best in the clutch — albeit with small sample sizes — are Olynyk and Adebayo; each is 4 for 5 from the field.
Hassan Whiteside is just 2 for 6 from the field in the clutch and 5 for 9 on free throws, but Miami has outscored teams by 13 with Whiteside playing in the clutch compared to a plus-eight with Adebayo.
Marsel Imer, 19, was arrested on a misdeameanor charge of trespassing and disorderly conduct after he ran on the court with 0.9 seconds left in Tuesday’s game and snatched the ball from the official after a Jamal Murray free throw. Arena security and police apprehended him. Per WPLG-ABC 10, Imer appeared in court Wednesday and had the charges against him dropped, but he was ordered to stay away from AmericanAirlines Arena.
“That’s unacceptable,” Spoelstra said Wednesday of Imer’s behavior, praising arena security. “League-wide, everyone will be vigilant. Even when innocent, it’s not funny and it’s unacceptable.”
Here’s my post with Kevin McHale’s thoughts on the Heat as he prepares to work Heat-Celtics on Thursday on TNT. Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson also weighs in.