Five takeaways from the Heat’s 114-106 victory over the Indiana Pacers, the sixth in a row for Miami (24-17) and the first at Bankers Life Fieldhouse since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014.
1. If we’ve learned anything about the Heat during this winning streak it’s that nobody on this team is afraid to take the big shots late – and make them. All six wins during this streak have been by single digits and the last four have been nail-biters. Wayne Ellington was the hero again Wednesday – a night after hitting the game-winning layup in Toronto with 0.3 seconds left – when he rimmed in a 31-foot three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and two Pacers in his face with 23.2 seconds to play. The basket stretched the Heat’s lead to 109-103.
Miami, now 18-7 in clutch games, had a lot of heroes late. Goran Dragic led the team with 20 points and made a lot of big buckets in a tight fourth quater. Tyler Johnson buried a three to break a 97-all tie. Then Ellington hit a 22-foot pullup jumper. Hassan Whiteside had a tip-in to make it 104-101. Dragic then hit another pullup bucket.
The point is this Heat team is unique in that it isn’t reliant every night on the same players delivering in the clutch. All of them can.
“When it hit the rim, I was a little nervous,” said Ellington, who missed his first six three-point shots, but finished with 15 points. “And, it dropped in for me. I said, ‘I must be living good.’
“But that goes with how we’re playing right now. Togetherness. It’s like a karma to it. That’s how I feel.”
2. Whiteside is working his way back into form little by little. Wednesday’s 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks were accompanied by lots of effort plays that made his coach happy.
“He has to continue to embrace that competition and bring your fingerprints,” Spoelstra said. “He has to understand what putting your fingerprints on a game means, and it is those extra efforts for an offensive rebound, when we get jammed up and that’s why he's different. He’s bigger and stronger than most in this league. When you're dealing with a dynamic, explosive wing player like [Victor] Oladipo, sometimes you have to make a play at the rim to disrupt it.
“He had the big block on [Domantas] Sabonis. I thought he had a clean block on Oladipo and a big rebound at the end. When he plays like that, he makes you have to play him. And the most important thing is then you start to realize that now you’re impacting winning. That’s something we can build on.”
Whiteside has now had three consecutive double-doubles. He didn’t have any double-doubles in his first five games back from injury.
“I just try to affect the game the best I can,” Whiteside said. “They were coming back. Oladipo was playing a really great game and putting a lot of pressure on us. I just tried to affect the game in the best way I could.
“I love playing with these guys. These guys play hard. They play amazing and it just fuels energy. Even Wayne coming off the pick-and-rolls, the way he do, and the handoffs. It’s inspiring.”
3. Never question Tyler Johnson’s toughness. After sitting out Tuesday’s game in Toronto with what the team first described as a left shoulder strain, and then being declared out during Spoelstra’s pregame meeting with the media an hour and a half before tip-off Wednesday, Johnson not only convinced Spoelstra to play him, but he came in and delivered 15 points in 31 minutes off the bench – win a pinched nerve in his neck.
“That's why you love Tyler Johnson so much,” Spoelstra said. “At the walkthrough he still was jammed up in his neck. U.D. and Tyler talked before the team meeting and Tyler came into my office and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give it a shot. Five minutes, if I can help you at the end of the quarter.’ I looked at him like he was crazy. So I called up [trainer] Jay [Sabol] and he said ‘it’s really up to him, just play it by ear.’ So I went with the Mike Miller role, just playing him to the end of the quarter, just get us to the end of the [first] quarter and he did a couple of good things in that first quarter. And, I went to take him out and he said, “What are you crazy?’ So we let him rol;. A winning locker room can cure a lot of different things. So we have thankfully some time before the next game. The shoulder feels fine now. Now it’s all in his neck.”
Johnson, who also contributed five rebounds, two assists and helped the Heat limit Indiana to only one three-pointer on 18 attempts, said he did not take a shot to his neck. He took pills, which loosened him up just enough to play. He’s hoping having the next three days off – along with some medication – will allow him to be ready for Sunday’s home game against the Bucks.
“I still can’t really turn my head,” Johnson said. “But we got it to somewhere where it was manageable, the pain, the movement and being able to at least lift my shoulder up, which to me was the most important part.”
4. Rookie Bam Adebayo, Mr. Energy, continues to impress and make a case for more playing time even when James Johnson returns to the lineup Sunday. With Johnson serving a one game suspension for his altercation with Raptors forward Serge Ibaka Tuesday night, the Heat’s first round pick received more work yet again and followed up his 16-point, 15-rebound, five-block effort with 15 points, two rebounds, five assists and a steal in 31 minutes off the bench.
He was exceptional in the first half as the Heat stretched its lead to as many as 16 points. After playing 14 minutes alongside Hassan Whiteside Tuesday, Adebayo and Whiteside got some more work together Wednesday and looked good defending the paint and rebounding even though the Heat was outscored 72-40 in the paint by Indiana. Adebayo is not afraid to shoot the ball anymore, which he admits he was scared to do earlier this season. He finished 4 of 9 from the field Wednesday.
The biggest thing he brings, Spoelstra said, is energy. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back that was huge for this shorthanded Heat team.
“I think he’s used to this. I think this is like his normal AAU circuit,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “He was only doing that 14 months ago. So he likes to play back-to-backs. And we have a lot of young guys, they don’t feel like probably the 30-year olds or even how I feel. I got nothing left right now. But Bam, his energy, his quickness, his toughness, it's infectious. And when you have a game where guys don’t necessarily feel like you got the juice, when you see somebody else, all of a sudden you find energy from that, from his energy.”
5. What in the world has gotten into Spoelstra lately? The Heat’s coach was hit with his seventh technical foul of the season with 9:48 left in the opening quarter, the most by any coach in the league thus far. It’s equated to $16,000 in fines.
Entering Wednesday play league-wide, only six players in the league had at least seven technical fouls: Draymond Green (11), Kevin Durant (8), DeMarcus Cousins (8), Dwight Howard (7), Markieff Morris (7) and Russell Westbrook (7). Heat players, meanwhile, have six technicals combined (Goran Dragic 2, Tyler Johnson 1, James Johnson 1, Adebayo 1, Dion Waiters 1) – one fewer than their coach.
“We’re all a little bit more fiery right now,” Ellington said. “But you appreciate that. That let’s you know your coach is out there with you. He wants those guys to get the right call for us. We appreciate it.”