MIAMI – The Miami Heat overcame an uneven start Sunday wiping out a 16 point first half deficit, but ultimately could not overcome a much more experienced San Antonio Spurs team.
The Spurs held on for a 106-99 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena despite Hassan Whiteside equaling his career high of 27 points and adding 15 rebounds.
The Heat’s lone lead in the second half (87-86) last 18 seconds and Miami (1-2) never led again.
“A better response than the other night when we got hit by a good team (Charlotte) but you have to play great almost near perfect basketball down the stretch on both ends to come out with a win,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Kawhi Leonard led San Antonio with 27 points.
Here are our five takeaways from the season opener.
1. Miami just doesn’t have enough firepower to hang with the big boys: Even without LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) and Danny Green (quad), the Spurs had too much for the Heat. But Spoelstra likes the way Miami hung with San Antonio. “Our game plan was to try to push them, try to make them tired,” Goran Dragic said about the Spurs, who were playing the second night of a back-to-back. “We showed at some points of the game if we are focused enough we can play with these guys.” The Heat looked more alive and got their running game in gear in the second half. Miami had its chances after taking a one point lead on a Dragic layup with 6:48 to play but the Heat hurt themselves at the free throw line (18 of 26 while San Antonio was 22 of 26) and could not overcome losing Whiteside for three minutes late in the game because of cramps. “I loved it,” Spoelstra said about Whiteside. “Not that he went down but it just showed you how hard he was competing. That’s what this team will need. We’ll need 34, 36 minutes of that every night.”
2. Justise Winslow is a much different player when he’s attacking the rim: Winslow missed his first five shots, including air balling a three pointer, and then started going to the basket, which turned around his night. Winslow made his next seven shots, five of them at the rim, and finished 7 of 15, for 18 points. Winslow made it a point to work on his shot during the summer and it will come, but it’s going to take some time. In the meantime, this multi-talented 20-year-old just needs to keep doing what he’s doing in every other aspect of the game. “He always brings it and he does it at both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “That’s about as many calories you can burn in 39 minutes.”
3. It wasn’t long ago these two teams were battling it out in consecutive Finals: And one remains a championship contender while the other is just hoping to sniff the playoffs. Udonis Haslem is Miami’s lone remaining player from the 2014 Finals, which was won by San Antonio in five games one year after Miami’s epic seven-game series victory. Since, the Heat have seen the end of the LeBron James (Cleveland), Dwyane Wade (Chicago), Chris Bosh (health) era. Meanwhile, San Antonio may have lost Tim Duncan (retired) but it has added LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol to a nucleus of Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Now, whether that team is good enough to knock off two-time Western Conference champion Golden State and bring San Antonio a sixth title, we won’t know until May.
4. The Heat need much more from Dion Waiters: Waiters was 3 of 9 with six turnovers and now is shooting 31.6 percent (12 of 38) for the season with a team-high 10 turnovers. He also easily gets frustrated when he isn’t getting calls and become a liability. Waiters biggest turnover came with 2:40 to play when he attempted a lob pass to Willie Reed and ball sailed out of bounds. “He’ll get it (but) you can underestimate putting together a new team and the process it takes getting on the same page,” Spoelstra said. Waiters wants his teammates to push the ball even more. “We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing, push the tempo,” he said. “Especially where there are four guards out there we have to push the ball.”
5. Whiteside steps it up at the free-throw line: Okay, it was just one game but Whiteside made a marked improvement at the free throw line. After starting the season 4 of 11, the Heat center decided to return to the style that worked for him last season, a quasi-jumper where he sets up with his left foot forward and steps into the shot with his right foot. Whiteside made half of his first six attempts Sunday before making his final four attempts to finish 7 of 10.