MIAMI – The Heat were down to nine players and were without 80 percent of their opening-night starting lineup.
But that didn’t matter when Miami came out inspired, building a 14-point lead early against the reeling Detroit Pistons.
But the Heat finally cooled off and then just wore down as Detroit took advantage of Miami’s shorthanded roster and raced to a 107-98 victory Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami did not trail until Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s jumper with four minutes remaining in the third quarter that gave Detroit a 75-73 lead. Miami regained the lead briefly before the Pistons started a 16-2 run to seal the game.
James Johnson led the Heat with 20 points off the bench. Wayne Ellington added 18.
“They played better,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To be fair we probably ran out of gas a little bit. Not as an excuse but we’re playing guys big minutes. I told the guys there’s nothing to be ashamed with this game, we just got outplayed down the stretch.”
Here are our five takeaways.
Sizzle, then fizzle: The Heat were unstoppable for most of the first half, opening a 51-37 lead by shooting better than 70 percent for the first 17 minutes of the game. The law of averages caught up with Miami and after missing 13 shots in the first half (24 of 37), Miami missed 15 in the third quarter (4 of 19) as it was outscored 27-15. Miami went nearly nine minutes without a field goal – missing 11 straight shots – from the end of the third quarter to midway through the fourth as Detroit stretched its 85-81 lead after three to 91-81.
“We were getting good looks in the second half,” Josh Richardson said. “It wasn’t like our offense was completely stagnant. I think they picked the defense up a little bit, but I still think we were getting good looks. They just weren’t dropping.”
Defense disappears: Even with its red-hot start from the field, the Heat never were able to open an insurmountable lead, allowing the Pistons to hang close. Detroit cut the deficit to just eight points at the half and then took advantage of Miami’s fatigue in the second half. The Pistons shot 48.8 percent for the game but 63.2 percent in the decisive third quarter (12 of 19) when they outscored the Heat 27-15. Detroit had three players finish with at least 23 points, led by Reggie Jackson’s 27, Caldwell-Pope’s 25 and Andre Drummond’s 23. The trio combined to shoot 31 of 51.
“They hit some when we were scrambling” Spoelstra said. “We were tying to make some efforts, they started to knock down some mid-range shots. Usually when you do that it opens up other things, then they got the lobs. We started to protect against the lobs and that opened up the three-point shooting. They played much better in the second half.”
Live by the 3 …: The Heat had their best three-point shooting half of the season, making 10 of 15, which was one off the franchise high for the most three pointers in the first half. Ellington and Richardson led the early three-point assault with half of the team’s first half total. But the Heat cooled off from downtown in the second half (making four) and still finished the game with a solid 14-of-26 night from beyond the arc.
“We were getting some of the same looks and we weren’t able to knock those down that we were able to knock down in the first half,” Spoelstra said.
Playing time for Haslem: With Hassan Whiteside ailing and Willie Reed making his first Heat start, Udonis Haslem was forced into backup center duty. The Heat captain responded with 21 solid minutes, scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds. Haslem entered the game with six points and 10 rebounds in eight games this season. His biggest contribution came in the first half with four points and four rebounds.
New year, same old story line: The Heat rang in the New Year with a whole new rash of injuries. Spoelstra had nine available players with Hassan Whiteside (eye), Justise Winslow (shoulder), Goran Dragic (back), Dion Waiters (groin) and Josh McRoberts (foot) all out, pushing Miami’s total to 140 games lost to injury.
As a result, Miami rolled out its 13th different starting lineup of the season, one that had Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington in the backcourt, Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt at the forwards and center Willie Reed making his first Heat start. That group got off to a solid start, making its first eight shots. Spoelstra had used every available player by midway through the second quarter.
“Just got to be tough, you can’t really think about it too much,” Richardson said. “We’ve just got to pick up the slack for them.”