Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 116-109 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors in its regular-season finale at home on Wednesday night that secured the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
1. Making history in a meaningful way: From the moment it was first mentioned to him, Wayne Ellington said if he was fortunate enough to set the Heat’s new single-season record for three-pointers, he wanted it to mean something for the team.
Mission accomplished for Ellington on Wednesday night on both fronts.
Ellington needed seven threes to eclipse the mark of 225 three-pointers Damon Jones made during the 2004-05 season. Ellington sank eight triples with six coming in the fourth quarter to help the Heat rally, force overtime and eventually secure the win.
"The belief that the coaches have in me, I’m just so appreciative to be able to get that record," Ellington said. "Obviously, in this great organization, to be at the top of the list in any statistical category is an unbelievable accomplishment. I’m just grateful, humbled and appreciative."
The six threes in the fourth quarter marked the most for a Heat player in the final period. The Heat improved to 20-8 this season when Ellington makes four or more three-pointers. Ellington matched his season-high for threes made (Dec. 22 against the Dallas Mavericks at home).
The Heat’s win secured the No. 6 seed in the East and a first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, who will enter the playoffs on a 16-game win streak. It will be a homecoming for Ellington, who was born in Wynnewood, a town located about eight miles from Philadelphia.
"That’s so awesome," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The guys were so happy for him. I really think that’s the way this group is wired. It wasn’t anything that we talked about. You’d have to ask them. But we were all trying to get him going. And he just caught fire."
Ellington finished with a career-high 32 points and was active on the offensive and defensive end even before he ignited in the fourth quarter. His effort lifted the Heat out of its shooting struggles after Miami shot only 37.2 percent (29 of 78) through the first three quarters. The Heat had also been held to under 10 three-pointers made in six of their previous seven games – a trend that would have continued without Ellington’s late surge.
"It didn’t matter for us because he just creates so much offense because of his reputation and the threat of him coming off screens it just opens everything up," Spoelstra said. "It opens up our bigs. It opens up our drivers, all of that. But there is an energy to the game and that’s the beautiful thing about our locker room. I really do think everyone wanted to have a real night like this and get the record and it’s even more special when it’s unspoken and he just made it happen."
Spoelstra said after the game that Ellington was running catch and shoot drills on Tuesday with Heat assistant coach Octavio De La Grana to an exhausting level and credited that type of intense practice for his success this season.
"I just mentioned to him and the guys in the locker room, these kinds of games don’t just happen by accident," Spoelstra said. "On a day off yesterday I happened to just come in and saw him in there with coach O for one straight hour of full-speed catch and shoots. Literally most players just can’t sustain that kind of effort on catch and shoots. I almost thought it was too much the day before a game. But that’s the vision of a champion before you’re a champion is drenched in sweat, totally exhausted, empty gym with a coach working your [butt] off. It’s great to see it pay dividends in a game like tonight."
Spoelstra was glad he didn’t unintentionally prevent Ellington from hitting his last three on a dribble-handoff from James Johnson with 18.8 seconds left that nearly gave the Heat a 105-103 lead and nearly secured the victory in regulation.
"His coach almost took it away from him," Spoelstra said. "I was trying to call timeout. I was scrambling. JJ could not even hear me. Wayne did his Ray Allen impersonation and ran down the ball and hit a huge one."
2. The Raptors had their playoff business settled, but still went all out. With 6:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, Toronto took out four of its starters and appeared for a few moments like it would take its foot off the gas. Nearly two minutes later, the starters subbed back in and remained in overtime as the Raptors went after a potential 60-win season full bore.
DeMar DeRozan played 38 minutes and 29 seconds and finished with 19 points and six rebounds and Kyle Lowry played 37 minutes and 39 seconds, finishing with a team-high 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
"We were talking about it at halftime," Ellington said. "They didn’t have much to play for but they’re playing for something for sure. We got their best shot. Like I said, it couldn’t be any more sweeter (against) the No. 1 team in the East … We’re going back home for me, to Philly."
3. Justise Winslow continues to make "winning plays" and had one of his most impactful games of the season. With 11 points, Winslow was one of eight Heat players that scored in double figures, but also had eight rebounds and four assists.
"He grew up tonight," James Johnson said. "He was making great plays. He wasn’t worrying about other things and he was able to put things in check. Little mistakes or little turnovers, he was able to put that in a box and kind of bury that for the time being. That’s just showing maturity."
Spoelstra said he was shocked Winslow didn’t finish with higher numbers in the latter two categories.
"Arguably, in my mind, that might be his best game, big game, in a Miami uniform," Spoelstra said. "There wasn't anything that he didn't have his fingerprint on in this game to contribute to the win. It felt like he had 20 rebounds. I was shocked when I looked down, he only had eight. It felt like he had 10, 12 dimes. It felt like he was at the rim all night, making plays for us. But that's the vision and the potential coming together on a night where he can just make a bunch of winning plays and willing a win."
Winslow has scored in double figures in five of his past seven games and finished with seven or more rebounds in four of those games.
"I was out there a lot of minutes consecutively, got kind of tired," Winslow said. "I was just trying to make plays. I was telling [Ellington] I didn’t even know he had 30. I was just looking for my teammates, trying to get the team organized and defensively just trying to make it tough on them. I felt good out there, missed a couple shots, but we got the win. But I felt in rhythm, had some nice plays going to the basket, finding my teammates. I'm just glad we got the win and going to the playoffs on a good note."
4. The rookie entered late, but delivered a clutch impact on the Heat’s comeback. Adebayo played 18 minutes and 17 seconds down the stretch after not entering the game until the 1:25 mark of the third quarter. Adebayo made all four of his shots and finished with 10 points, four rebounds, an assist and a block.
5. Balance and depth have been huge reasons the Heat is back in the postseason. It showed yet again on Wednesday when Miami played without leading scorer Goran Dragic, who sat out with a sore right knee. Rodney McGruder started in his place and played 18-plus minutes, but collectively the Heat’s bench accounted for 75 points.