Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 115-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. The Thunder clinched a playoff spot by finishing the game on a 21-2 run and outscoring the Heat 39-12 in an ugly fourth quarter.
Before we get to what matters for the Heat moving forward, this was as ugly a finish as we’ve seen to a game for Miami this season. The 12 fourth quarter points were the fewest by the Heat in the final quarter of a regulation game since it scored 11 points against the Celtics in a loss on March 25, 2015.
So what happened that led to the fourth quarter meltdown?
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“I think it was the combination of them marching to the free-throw line and us not executing on the other end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had some tough offensive possessions where we didn’t work the offense to get what we wanted. A handful of quick shots that led to either fast breaks and or fouls... we did not handle the officiating well. We did not handle the [foul] discrepancy well and it was tough when they just keep on going to the line. That’s when you have to show even more stability, whether you agree with it or not, and then be able to execute with great focus and force on the other end.”
The Thunder finished 31 of 38 from the free throw line, the 38 attempts equaling the most a Heat opponent has taken in a game this season (Cleveland had 38 free throws attempts in a Cavs 91-89 win on Jan. 31). Miami, meanwhile, took 14 free throws and made eight of them.
“I think we were more focused on the calls, right or wrong we were focusing on them and it kind of took our attention away from the game,” said Justise Winslow, who finished minus-35 for the game in plus/minus despite 12 points, nine rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.
“A lot of our focus shifted to the refs. But they made a lot of big-time shots, especially [Russell Westbrook] and [Paul George]. I don’t think it was any miscommunication or lack of attention to details. I just think they hit big shots.”
Westbrook recorded his 25th triple double of the season with 23 points (8 of 21 shooting), 18 rebounds and 13 assists. George had 27 points on 7 of 19 shooting. OKC shot 43.2 percent for the game and was outscored in the paint 58-32.
2. The Heat slipped to the No. 7 seed in the East with the loss, but still has a chance to climb to No. 6 on Wednesday against Toronto.
A lot of Heat fans are hoping to see Miami take on an injured and inexperienced Celtics team in the first round of the playoffs, and after Monday’s loss Miami is in line to now open the playoffs in Boston. Milwaukee’s win over Orlando Monday lifted the Bucks (44-37) into the No. 6 seed, a game in front of the Heat (43-38) in the standings. Washington (42-37) remains a half game back of Miami with two to play.
If the Heat win Wednesday it clinches at least the No. 7 seed and the Southeast Division title regardless of what the Wizards or Bucks do. If Miami loses to Toronto (59-22), then the Heat could slip to No. 8 and a first round series with the Raptors should Washington wins its last two games against the Celtics and Magic.
At this point, the No. 6 seed is still in play for the Heat. It would take a Miami win against the Raptors and a Milwaukee loss at the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers (50-30) on Wednesday for that to happen.
“We wanted this one,” Winslow said. “We’re still trying to win every game. We haven’t shifted our focus to the playoffs yet. We were focused on [OKC] tonight. I know that for a fact. Guys weren’t talking about the weekend or anything. We were focused on trying to keep that sixth seed and win out. So, that’s where our focus was.”
Said Dwyane Wade: “We put the effort out there. Against the Knicks we didn’t. Tonight we did. This team was desperate and they got some things to go their way and they ended up winning the game. Not from a lack of trying, not from a lack of playing the way we needed to. I’m OK with our effort in this game.”
3. Being healthy for the start of the playoffs will likely be the No. 1 priority for the Heat in Wednesday’s finale against Toronto.
Spoelstra will not come out and say he’s going to sit guys to rest them for the playoffs, but it would be shocking to see him play anyone heavy minutes on Wednesday in light of some nagging injuries.
Goran Dragic and Wade each shot 2 of 10 from the floor Monday. Dragic, who has been dealing with knee tendinitis for the past month and sat out last Wednesday in Atlanta because of it, finished with four points and seven assists in 30 minutes. Wade, 36, had six points in 24 minutes of work. He fractured his right elbow last year and its been bothering him as well as his left wrist, which he landed on awkwardly at the end of a home loss to Brooklyn last week.
Monday, Josh Richardson banged knees with Thunder center Steven Adams in the fourth quarter and James Johnson got poked in the eye.
“I’m all right,” Richardson said of his right knee, which clutched for several moments in the fourth quarter. “I was trying to get through a screen and I got the bad end of a knee to knee with Steven Adams.”
Said Spoelstra: “We’ll find out more tomorrow. J-Rich just banged knees. He said he was fine right now. He was wearing pads. JJ got poked in the eye. When I walked [out of the locker room], I asked him how many fingers I had. I went like this and he said, ‘You have two.’ I was like OK. So he’s joking, I figure he’s OK.”
4. Does the Heat really care about where it finishes in the standings?
The honest answer is not really. The goal this season was to make the playoffs and that mission has been accomplished. At this point if the Sixers hold off Cleveland for the No. 3 seed, the Heat will not have to worry about a first round matchup with the Cavaliers and LeBron James. Obviously that’s the one matchup everyone in the East dreads in Round 1 considering James has never lost a first round series and has 21 consecutive first round playoff games.
The Heat isn’t just throwing its hands up in the air. Players brought the right kind of intensity Monday, jumping out to a 23-5 lead in the first quarter before things spiraled out of control in the fourth quarter. The thing is, though, nobody in the locker room was truly hanging their heads about Monday’s loss. And no one truly seems to be really interested in watching what happens Tuesday when a Wizards loss to the Celtics could assure Miami of at least a first round date with No. 2 seeded Boston or whoever finishes as the No. 3 seed.
“I’ll be watching a little bit,” Richardson said when asked if he’ll be watching other games Tuesday when the Heat is off. “I’m not going to be crazy about it. I’ll probably tune in some.”
Said Wade: “[Tuesday] is a day in between for us. We’ll watch games but I’m not focused on that. I’ve been to 13 playoffs now coming up. I’ve seen so many different scenarios and so many things happen at the last minute you just never know. It doesn’t matter. We’re in the playoffs, whoever we play, we play, man.”
5. Monday’s loss was only the third in the Heat’s last 14 home games. Is avoiding a three-game losing streak heading into the postseason important?
“I think where we’re at now is positive,” said James Johnson, who said he plans to spend his day off Tuesday with his son and not watching basketball. “We’re trending in the right direction like I said. Right now we’re sharpening and getting better in the little details, being able to run the show and not look at Coach and being in our responsibilities when we’re blitzing and who we’re blitzing. We’re working on a lot of things to avoid those mistakes in the playoffs.”
Avoiding another fourth quarter meltdown like Monday’s would be a good place to start.