Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 115-86 blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night at Philips Arena:
1. The Heat intends to keep playing hard and competing for the No. 6 seed the rest of the season while being mindful of injuries and rest.
It might have not looked like it at first when coach Erik Spoelstra announced pregame Dwyane Wade (wrist), Goran Dragic (ankle) and James Johnson (ankle) were sitting out the game to heal from nagging injuries, but then the Heat and Hawks reminded us just how bad Atlanta (22-57) has been this season and the sizable gap between the two teams.
A night after Miami needed an 11-0 run to close out a 101-98 victory and clinch a playoff spot over the lottery-bound Hawks, the Heat pulled off its biggest blowout of the season, making 17 of 38 from three-point range and holding the Hawks to 36.7 percent shooting. Miami led 64-60 early in the third quarter and just blew the Hawks away from there.
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“We’re teams in two different places,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t very long ago that they were the best team in the East, 60 wins, four All-Stars. It’s a different circumstance, different time right now. But our guys really want to work on our game. And regardless of who we had in or who was out, the guys who didn’t have a chance to play every single game really wanted to prove themselves and prove that they can hold their own within our game.”
The Heat clearly did that Wednesday with contributions from players who haven’t played much of late – Rodney McGruder, Bam Adbeayo and Luke Babbitt – sprinkled in with some big performances from the guys who do play: Kelly Olynyk (19 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Josh Richardson (19 points, four rebounds, two assists, three steals, four blocks) and Justise Winslow (season-high 18 points, five assists).
The payoff: the Heat (43-36) remains as the No. 6 seed in the East and now leads Washington and Milwaukee by a half game. The Heat also clinched the division tiebreaker over the Wizards by securing its 11th division win (Washington can’t win more than 10 division games). Miami already owned the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bucks.
“We’re not going to shut this thing down,” Spoelstra said. “We’re not in that position right now. We’re still playing for something. We’re going to be mindful of guys that are dealing with something. That’s why we were proactive with Dwyane, Goran and JJ. So, let’s get to New York, evaluate how those guys are and evaluate how anybody else is. But we intend on playing it out. We can’t control what the other teams can do, but we want to continue to play and compete and be ready.”
2. Nobody made it rain like Olynyk did Wednesday – and nobody might make it rain more in New York over the next couple of days either.
Olynyk made five threes in a row in the second quarter and keyed a 17-2 run that put the Heat in front for good.
“I was kind of in the zone. It felt like whatever I threw up was going to go in,” Olynyk said.
It was the kind of performance the Heat has wanted to see from Olynyk all season and one he’s delivered many times now.
“Tonight is probably what we envisioned when we first started having those conversations about just that one small part, about shooting the basketball,” Spoelstra said. “When he drilled up and launched after he hit a couple, we’re OK with that. It’s not just the staff, but his teammates are OK with that. He’s one of our very best shooters, he works on it all the time. It’s such a weapon but we want to be able to use it and he picks the right spots.
“It’s all because he’s thinking. His heart’s in the right place. He doesn’t want to just take all the shots. He wants to shoot open ones. He wants to also help other guys hit open shots and you love guys like that. But tonight he got it going and guys were really looking for him and he took advantage of it. But also defensively, he was in the right gaps, the right places in our team schemes, which he tends to do.”
Before he went off swishing threes, Olynyk earned himself a cool $1 million in bonus money for surpassing the 1,700 minute mark for the season. It’s something we all knew was coming – and now his teammates and coach plan to take advantage of it.
“Not that any of us [are supposed to] know, but dinner, drinks, all of that is on him when we get to New York,” Spoelstra said. “I’m going to see if I can get a ticket to a play, bill his account.”
3. Wayne Ellington made NBA history.
No player in league history has made more threes off the bench than the 207 Ellington has this season. Ellington’s third three-pointer of the night moved him past Houston’s Eric Gordon (206 threes in 2016) for the record. Ellington finished with 11 points and was surprised to learn after the game he had set the record.
“That’s a great accomplishment to set any record, any NBA record,” said Ellington, who has 216 three-pointers made this season overall – nine shy of tying Damon Jones’ franchise record of 225 set in 2005. “I’m thankful, I’m appreciative. Like I always say, I’ve got to thank my coaches and my teammates first and foremost. Without those guys I wouldn’t be sitting here having that conversation with you guys. So I’m appreciative of that. We’ve got three more games left in the regular season. Let’s finish off strong and see what happens.”
4. McGruder, making his first start of the season after missing 60 games with a fractured tibia, had 14 points in an encouraging performance.
McGruder, who is not a part of the regular rotation, was a healthy scratch each of the last two games. A spot opened up for him Wednesday and he took advantage.
“Rodney McGruder was a major part of that last year. Sixty-five starts,” Spoelstra said. “Think about that. He started 65 times last year for a team went 30-11 the second half of the season and then because of injury this year he had to be a support player and I wanted the guys to understand and have empathy for that. But he’s put himself in a positon now that he's also ready to contribute. And while we might have a rotation that’s set where he might not play every single night, I will not hesitate to play him in any circumstance, starting or bench. Or, if he hasn’t played in the first half, I’ll throw him in a playoff game in the second half. But more importantly, I have that kind of faith in him. That’s a beautiful thing to see.”
5. The Heat is now 14-2 when it holds opponents under 40 percent shooting – and is 2-11 in its last 13 road games.
Miami has to start somewhere on its road back to success on the road, and Wednesday’s performance was a good one. As hot as the Heat’s three-point shooters got, so did Miami’s defense in the second half after a pep talk from Udonis Haslem.
“Coach challenged us. They were going on a little run and we took that challenge,” McGruder said. “We took it up a notch and that lasted the whole second half.”
Said Spoelstra: “U.D. pretty much started it, in between the two quarters he sat in the chair, but then other guys piped in as well. We really wanted to come out and continue our defensive performances the last couple of weeks and the guys owned it. The guys worked through it on their own and were able to make the corrections and get it done. The activity level in the second quarter really sparked it.
“I thought Bam’s energy in particular, his deflections, his blocks, but covering a lot of ground, it just inspired the other guys now to make multiple efforts. Certainly, the three-point shooting was good in the second quarter, but holding them to 18 points too really allowed those baskets to happen and get a better comfort level on the offensive side, because of all that defensive activity.”
One thing to remember about the Heat’s recent road record: Of the 11 losses in their last 13 games away from AmericanAirlines Arena, 10 were decided by six points or less. The only blowout was the loss at Portland, which only turned ugly late.