Five takeaways from the Heat’s 95-91 victory over the Charlotte Hornets Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. Credit the ‘Platinum Group’ for this much-needed come-from-behind win, which snapped a two-game losing streak and kept the Heat a game in front of the Wizards for fourth place in the East before it leaves on a four-game road trip Sunday. Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow – the four players who made it off the Heat’s bench Saturday – were the heroes in this one. And apparently this is the nickname we never knew they had.
As the Heat’s starting unit sputtered once again, Ellington, Olynyk, Adebayo and Winslow provided much needed lifts each time they were summoned by coach Erik Spoelstra. Led by Olynyk (16 points, four rebounds, six assists) and Ellington (17 points) on offense, the second unit rallied the Heat in the first half to a 54-48 lead and then again from a 15-point deficit in the second half.
In the end, the plus/minus told the story: Winslow finished plus-25, Olynyk plus-18, Ellington plus-17 and Adebayo plus-13.
Hassan Whiteside, meanwhile, played only 18 minutes and 25 seconds and finished minus-15 for the game with six points, 10 rebounds and two turnovers. He and Goran Dragic sat and watched the entire fourth quarter. Dragic finished minus-24 in 23 minutes of work, scoring only five points on 2-of-8 shooting to go along with four assists and two turnovers.
“We [the second unit] have the white jerseys [in practice] so we call ourselves the ‘Platinum Group’ and we try to hold ourselves to a platinum standard,” said Winslow, who finished with six points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 31 minutes of work off the bench including all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. “We use our voices even if it’s just shootaround. We try to be solid and give up nothing. So when we’re out there [in the game] we try to use that same intensity and same focus, try to shut the other team down.”
Said Adebayo, who had eight points, 12 rebounds, a steal and a block in 26 minutes off the bench: “When we go through drills we try to be the loudest team between the two, so that’s the platinum group. We pretty much depend on the first group every game. If it’s not there, we just say we gotta pick them up.”
2. Ellington had missed five shots in a row before he buried the game-clinching three-pointer with 4.6 seconds to play. This is where confidence plays a factor. Think of all the times his teammates encouraged him this preseason to keep firing away even when he was struggling and missing shots. Saturday, Ellington delivered in the clutch once again because he’s had a season’s worth of confidence-building makes.
“Short-term memory man,” said Ellington, who finished 4-of-11 from three. “I have a very short term memory. They all felt like they were gonna go in. Like I said, when my teammates have that type of confidence in me and they keep coming to me and telling me it doesn’t matter, I don’t care how many you miss, shoot the next one, it’s easy to do my job.”
Ellington’s fourth three-pointer of the night didn’t just turn out to be a game-winner. It was also a new single-season high (150). Last year, he made 149 in his first season with the Heat.
“He’s a supremely conditioned athlete right now,” Spoelstra said. “He’s the top tier. He played probably what, 15, 16 straight minutes at full speed? He ran every wide receiver rout like his life depended on it, and probably more than half the time he was a decoy. And that’s why a lot of those plays opened up. He just keeps on running under and he wears the first coverage, second coverage, third coverage down and then just opens up the rest of your offense. I was talking about it today, the fitness, workout place, the Orange Theory, you’re supposed to get into this area of working out to orange, which is not quite red, which is not quite your max. Well, Wayne plays his games now, catch-and-shoot style, in the red zone, all game long, and that’s just a testament into the work he’s put into his body.”
3. Josh Richardson scored eight of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter including the go-ahead layup and free throw with 1:21 remaining.
Richardson’s plus/minus was plus-2 for the game, but he played seven minutes and 30 seconds of impactful basketball in the fourth quarter. He did a terrific job defensively on Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lamb and often times blitzed Kemba Walker in coverage along with Justise Winslow.
Most importantly he helped provide leadership with the second unit along with James Johnson, who along with Winslow played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. Richardson had the ball in his hands and ran the Heat’s offense down the stretch. Before his go-ahead and-one over Dwight Howard, he hit a beautiful left-handed layup to pull the Heat within a point.
“His confidence has grown all year long, just by the responsibilities that he’s been given and he’s really stepped up to that challenge,” Spoelstra said of Richardson. “I think he likes being engaged in understanding where the ball need to go and how to execute and then to be able to do it in pressure situations. So there are some triggers to that action, a first, second, third layer. And J-Rich gets the whole thing and he’s able to get guys to his spots. And his confidence just continues to grow. We just want to fuel that.”
4. Winslow is settling into a nice backup point guard role off the bench.
Forget for a second he airballed a free throw and missed four of the six shots he took. Winslow’s defense in the fourth quarter was huge. Walker finished with 30 points, but he was just 1 of 8 from the field in the fourth quarter and that was because Winslow was guarding him for all 12 minutes of the final period.
“I love that stat line,” Spoelstra said. “I even mentioned it to him after the game. I love it. You look at the old-school way of looking at it and you’d say, ‘Ah, he had six points. He had three assists, probably not that much of an impact.’ And I don’t give a crap about the plus-minus, you felt his impact. Kemba Walker is handful for any team, and Justise, the same way, was able to chase him, put him in spots where he really had to generate a lot of energy just to get around Justise and that also speaks to how well-conditioned J-Dub is right now. He was able to play 14 straight minutes at a high level. And then he also made some big plays on the offensive end. And I think that’ll just continue to get better. He makes winning plays and you saw it tonight.”
Walker, who played 41 minutes, said the Heat’s trapping defense is what turned things around in the fourth quarter.
“They play hard, man,” Walker said of the Heat. “They play really hard. They make you take tough shots, make you make and take tough shots and they are really disciplined. Coach Spoelstra is a great coach and they have a lot of hard-playing guys on their side. They are really disciplined, which helps a lot. That’s why they’re so good.”
5. Tyler Johnson had eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in his return from his ankle injury. It wasn’t a great statline, but Johnson, who had missed the five previous games, was able to provide 21 minutes and 24 seconds worth of work and he’s going to be important going forward for some scoring balance with the starting unit.
“He’s been knocking on my door for about a week to get back into the mix,” Spoelstra said. “I think we did it the right way. He really was able to put in some very good work this week and I don’t envision a bit of a setback. He’ll just have to deal with it to continue to move forward. You see how it changes our dynamic with his ability to put the ball on the floor. He also can do a little bit what Wayne does. He can do a little bit what Goran does. And he also can play in the mid-range and do a little bit of what J-Rich does. And, so, that just helps our menu and the variety of our offense.”
Johnson did tweak his ankle in the second half, but he said it’s nothing serious.
“It was driving me crazy just sitting around, watching,” Johnson said. “But it felt good and I was happy to just be out there and able to contribute. Somebody stepped on my foot, and then I turned to go. It was quick; the pain went away. It was just very temporary.”