Five takeaways from the Heat’s 149-141 double overtime victory over the Denver Nuggets Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. There’s something to be said about the Heat’s experience in close games and its ability to flex its “muscle of resilience” when the going gets tough.
Coach Erik Spoelstra used this latest “Spoism” on the team’s recent West Coast roadtrip after a couple of deflating losses to describe the type of mental fortitude his team has developed this season having played in an NBA-best 48 clutch games.
There were officially 19 lead changes in Monday’s game. It was hard to tell at first because the NBA’s stat tracking system crashed early in the first overtime and the boxscore from the game was not released until 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
Either way, surviving the latest slugfest is something Spoelstra believes is just another example his team is trending in the right direction with 11 regular season games left and the playoffs right around the corner.
“OK, you look at the score and it looks like Miami Heat-Denver Nuggets circa late '80s, Ron Rothstein coaching the Heat,” Spoelstra said of the highest scoring game in franchise history. “I finally got one thing that I can throw back in Ronnie's face, we outscored all of his teams, even when they played much faster in that era than they do now.
“But what a grind, what a grind. I guess we’ve just been in more of these than most teams and we felt that we were getting tougher and building some resilience in these situations and you’re just waiting for the time when you could reap some benefits for that experience and some of the painful things that we’ve gone through. And you saw a little of that tonight.”
Miami improved its record in clutch games to 27-21 with Monday’s win and climbed up to seventh place in the Eastern Conference in the process.
2. James Johnson’s heroic performance in overtime – when he scored 18 of his career-high 31 points – is something that might finally spring him into becoming the more assertive player we saw in the second half of last season.
Johnson hit the second of back-to-back threes to clinch the game with 1:24 remaining in the second overtime. But before he made both of those big buckets with the shot clock winding down, Johnson, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal this summer, showed the kind of aggressiveness that has been lacking most of the season. He drove to the hoop strong and didn’t hesistate to fire up shots when he was open.
“I kept saying this is the JJ I know, every time he was getting a bucket, ‘this is the JJ I know,’” said Wayne Ellington, who had 23 points and made six three-pointers. “He was doing it from every angle on the floor, shooting threes, he had the midrange, he was getting to the cup, and ones, strong finishes. That’s the type of guy he’s capable of being. We know that. He was trying to be aggressive.
“He’s such a team guy, sometimes he defers to his teammates. We love that about him as well.”
How big was Johnson’s overtime performance? He entered Monday’s game with 17 career overtime points scored in his 16 previous overtime periods played. Not only did he set a franchise-record for points in overtime (LeBron James owned the previous mark at 15), Johnson was 13 of 17 shooting for the game. And it looked easy.
3. Before Johnson became the hero in overtime, Kelly Olynyk recorded his third career 30-point peformance on 11 of 16 shooting.
Olynyk also had a career-high four blocked shots in a memorable performance on both ends of the floor.
“Kelly is a unique player,” Goran Dragic said. “He can do a lot of stuff. He’s got that unorthodox game a little bit. But he can pass, he can shoot, he can put the ball on the floor. I don’t know how he takes a shot, every time he drives he kind of stops. That’s a unique skill to have. It’s not easy.”
Said Spoelstra: “He’s such a competitor that he finds a way to make an impact. And just as you saw with their team – they have such a unique basketball team, really well coached. They have a team of personnel that absolutely fits each other. And then when you have somebody that’s so skilled like Jokic, that can tie all of that – shooting and driving and attacking and versatility together – it’s a nightmare to try to defend them. So we have as similar facsimile of that with K.O., in a little bit slightly different way, because of his shooting, his playmaking at the elbow, his creatively and his absolute fearlessness, it makes your offense so much more dynamic.
“It makes your shooters better, it makes your drivers have open lanes to drive and then he sprinkles in enough just to keep the defense a little bit off balance. But he’s a true competitor. Even on the other end, when I subbed him out defense-offense at the end, he wants to be in there and God bless him. He deserved it, too.”
4. The Heat made 20 of its 36 three-point attempts, a new season high and one made three off the franchise record.
Ellington led the charge with his 11th game of making at least six three-point field goals.
Ellington’s 197 threes is the third highest single season total in franchise history. He trails Tim Hardaway’s 203 threes in 1996-97 by six and Damon Jones’ 225 threes in only 66 games in 2004-05 by 28 threes with 11 games to go.
Miami has made 790 three pointers, the second most of any season in team history and just 18 shy of tying the franchise record of 808 set last season.
Denver, by the way, was 18 of 38 from three-point range. The 18 threes were the most the Heat has allowed this season.
“You ask either head coach, they’re probably saying, ‘Hey, we can do better [defensively],” Spoelstra said. “[But] guys were stepping up and making big-time plays. Obviously our guys made some big shots, J.J.'s threes and his drives. Wayne was flying off screens. Those are not easy plays to defense. And then on the other side, I challenge any team to show us how you defend that other team, really well, consistently for 48 minutes. They had a lot of things going on. There’s a lot to deal deal, and when you have the passing, creative big they have, that makes it that much more touch. And Murray, obviously making big shots. On down the line. This is probably a game there didn’t deserve to be a loser. Guys probably really enjoyed playing in a game like this, a lot of scoring and big-time plays.”
5. Miami’s bench outscored the Nuggets bench 66 to 22.
The Heat’s bench has been one of the best in the league all season and the way Olynyk and Ellington have delivered this season is the reason why. Olynyk is averaging 20 points over his last three games and has made nine threes on 22 attempts. Ellington is among the top three-point scorers in the game.
“We didn’t exactly want it to be like this,” Ellington said of Monday’s shootout. “But these are the types of games that show your character, get us ready for the postseason. I’m sure it will come in handy having a game like this.”
Said Olynyk: “Good offense beats good defense every time. That’s the thing. But you’ve got to be able to buckle down and make some stops when it matters. It took up to 58 minutes to do that but eventually we got it done.
“That’s basketball at its peak. It was so fun to be a part of, so fun to play and honestly coming out on top makes the night so much more enjoyable to us – what it meant to us in terms of our push to the playoffs and the standings. Also [to do it] in front of our fans, to hold down home court, is big as well.”