Heat Check

It’s early, but Heat proving it can win in the clutch amid hurdles, without a star

Miami Heat forward James Johnson is defended by Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Toronto.
Miami Heat forward James Johnson is defended by Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Toronto. AP

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 90-89 victory over the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre, which lifted Miami to its fifth consecutive victory and fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 23-17 record:

1. Make it three straight heart-pounding wins for the cardiac Heat. First it was last Friday’s 107-103 overtime victory over the Knicks at home when Josh Richardson and James Johnson hit a bunch of big free throws late to seal the win. Then, it was Sunday’s 103-102 win over the Jazz when Richardson hit the game-winning layup. Tuesday night, it was Wayne Ellington, finding the ball in the corner and himself wide open as the clocked ticked down four seconds, three, two, one...

Ellington made the game-winning layup with 0.3 seconds on a broken play.

“It didn’t [go as planned] and that’s probably why Wayne was open,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s probably the last thing anybody would think he would do is put the ball on the floor and try to go for a game-winning dunk. But you have to get lucky in this game as well.

“Guys executed,” Spoelstra continued as he broke down the inbounds pass Goran Dragic made to Ellington with 4.4 seconds to go. “They really jammed up J-Rich on that entry, but Goran showed incredible poise to look at the last layer of it, which was Wayne and Wayne broke free probably because there was so much attention on J-Rich and [Kelly Olynyk] and then he just grabbed it and went. I think it caught everybody by surprise including me. He saw daylight to the rim and then he came through. The block was just a little bit too late.”

The Raptors had a foul to give on the play and didn’t use it. Ellington said at first he thought about shooting it, but then went for the dunk. He was smart enough at the end to go for the layup instead of the dunk, avoiding Raptors forward Pascal Siakam and guard OG Anunoby, who both attempted to block his shot. There was confusion initially between Siakam and Anunoby on the coverage that led to Ellington’s basket.

“Somehow I got wide open in the corner, they forgot about me,” Ellington said. “I saw a big guy charging out on me. I knew I had plenty of time left and I didn’t want to take a forced or challenged three. So I got past him and I looked up, and there was nobody around so I went ahead and finished it. Big, big, big credit to Goran for taking his time right there and making sure he found the open man.”

Miami is now 17-7 in clutch games, the fourth-best winning percentage in the league in games in which the score differential is five points or less with five minutes or less to play in regulation.

“I feel like mentally we’re stronger than maybe one month, two months ago and that’s going to help us – that we believe we can win those games,” said Dragic, who led the Heat with a game-high 24 points, career-high matching 12 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block. “Even if we don’t shoot the ball well or don’t score 100 points, we feel like it’s in our ballpark when the game is really on the line.”

Miami Heat's Wayne Ellington talks about the possibility of being in the 3-point contest in the upcoming NBA All-Star game and the team's clutch performance in recent games. Jan. 9, 2018.

James Johnson
Miami Heat forward James Johnson is ejected from the game along with Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, not seen, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Toronto. Nathan Denette AP

2. James Johnson’s ejection stacked the deck against the Heat Tuesday and figures to do the same Wednesday in Indiana. The feeling coming out of the locker room is that Johnson will likely be suspended at least one game after the NBA reviews the incident he had with Raptors forward Serge Ibaka.

Both were tossed with 7:50 remaining in the third quarter after it appeared punches and elbows were thrown by both. The league usually suspends players who throw a punch at least one game.

“We’ll just wait until we find out when we talk to the league, but I have an idea,” Spoelstra said.

Dragic and Raptors All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 25 points and missed a last-second shot from the other side of the court, had their own altercation at the end of the game. But it doesn’t appear Dragic or DeRozan will receive punishment.

“Nothing special, just exchanged some words,” Dragic said of the incident.

DeRozan’s shooting hand hit Dragic in the face after attempting the shot. Dragic said something to him, which led to the altercation.

“With the Goran, DeRozan situation I’m not sure what happened,” Spoelstra said. “I think that was defused by the time I got there. The other one, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s unfortunate.”

Bam Adebayo
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan drives past Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Toronto. Nathan Denette AP

3. Bam Adebayo played a heroic role in the Heat’s win. The rookie finished with 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds and five blocks in 33 fantastic minutes off the bench. He finished a team-best plus-nine for the game and played a huge role after Johnson was ejected.

“Bam was terrific,” Spoelstra said. “Defensively he was guarding on the perimeter, but still able to find a way to rebound.”

With Johnson out, Spoelstra had no choice but to pair Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside together – something they had done for one total minute together before Tuesday night.

It worked. The Heat went big and outrebounded the Raptors 64-37 and blocked a season-high 14 shots. Whiteside finished with 13 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. He and Adebayo played a total of 14 minutes together.

“I would say probably six weeks ago it was something that was on my radar, but since then we’ve had injuries and Hassan was out, he came back, it wasn’t high on the priority list,” Spoelstra said of the Whiteside-Adebayo pairing. “We have a lot of guys when we’re healthy. Trying to figure out how to play all the bigs [isn’t easy].

“KO and Bam had already started to really develop a great chemistry. Bam and JJ have created a nice chemistry. So now you go to Bam and Hassan creating a nice chemistry. What’s the common denominator? That kid is earning minutes. He’s making us play him regardless of what the combination is and that’s what you want to do as a competitor. Forget positions, forget roles, make a team play. And Bam, he’s done that in a lot of different roles so far in his young career.”

Said Ellington: “Man, he’s a beast. I tell him that all the time. He’s a beast, man. There’s no other way to describe him really. He’s 20 years old and looks like he’s 35, and he plays like it. He’s a beast, man. He’s going to be a force in this league for a long time.”

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic drives past Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Toronto. Nathan Denette AP

4. Dragic hit a lot of tough baskets in the third quarter and did a lot of heavy lifting for Miami when the shot clock was winding down. The Heat likely won’t put anybody into the All-Star Game this year – and Dragic would actually prefer to just enjoy a week off with his family than go to Los Angeles for the weekend.

But games like Tuesday’s are why most expect Dragic would be the Heat’s representative at All-Star weekend if coaches, who pick the reserves, believe the Heat needs to have a representative in the actual All-Star game.

“Look, Goran, he’s a winner,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a competitor. He’s a champion. You can never underestimate that. What he was able to do this summer [leading Slovenia to the EuroBasket gold medal], that shows he can go to a different level. That’s not necessarily getting in a comfort zone. This was not a prototypical Goran Dragic game. This wasn’t spread pick-and-roll and whirling dervish in transition and making plays. This was 12 rebounds, a cloud of dust, some post-ups, some elite possessions at the end of the clock where he just found a way to will the ball. That’s what winners do. And, the third quarter he gave everybody life. When we got jammed up on some possessions, you go to your best player, he scores and then you feel like you have some breathing room and he was able to do that.”

5. Derrick Jones Jr. made some contributions. The Heat’s other two-way player started in place of the injured Tyler Johnson and finished with eight points, five rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes of work.

Jones Jr. could see more work in Indiana Wednesday – especially if the both Johnson’s are out for Miami. Jones Jr. showed some nice athleticism with a pair of dunks.

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