Five takeaways: The shorthanded Miami Heat stun the Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-98

Miami’s Dion Waiters drives against Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson during Monday’s game. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND – Nobody saw this coming.

Miami Heat submitted their most impressive performance of the season Monday, sweeping the home-and-home with the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 106-98 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Heat, who routed a short-handed Cleveland team Saturday at home, were the shorthanded team this time.

Cleveland had LeBron James and Kyrie Irving back, both rested Saturday, and Miami was without James Johnson (elbow) and Tyler Johnson (shoulder) the entire game and Luke Babbitt for most of it.

Coach Erik Spoelstra had nine available players after Babbitt went down, and used eight.

And although Miami never trailed after James’ basket with 8:18 to play in the first quarter and opened a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, the game was not sealed until Dion Waiters banked home a 32-foot, 3-point shot with 12.2 seconds to play.

“I had to take that shot,” said Waiters, who led the Heat with 29 points, 24 in the first half. “I had to because I missed a couple of easy ones that went in and out on me. If just told myself the opportunity would at least come back around and I just shot with a bunch of confidence.”

Miami withstood two Cavaliers runs. Cleveland also cut Miami’s lead to three points midway through the third quarter before the Heat went on a 20-5 run.

“Great teams are going to make a run and come back,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had some messy possessions and some of our defensive breakdowns down the stretch. … they turned a 20-point lead to an eight-point lead like that. But our guys found a way to dig in and find some grit to finish it out.”

Goran Dragic added 21 for the Heat, 10 in the fourth quarter.

The Heat’s win coupled with Detroit’s victory over Chicago means Miami is 1.5 games behind both, who are tied for the No. 7 seed in the East. Miami is also just 2.5 games behind No. 6 Indiana.

Here are our five takeaways from Miami’s most impressive win of the season.

Revenge game: The Cavaliers had to be looking forward to Miami coming to their place after the Heat took advantage of James and Irving sitting out Saturday’s game in Miami and hammered the Cavs by 28. Then there was the J.R. Smith reaction to Rodney McGruder’s dunk in the final minutes and verbal altercation at the end. While most expected the Cavaliers would come out and bury the Heat, Miami stood up to the Cavaliers and took the game to them.

“They made a mad rushing in coming back, made shots, you just have to find a way in competition to make some plays down the stretch and fortunately we were able to,” Spoelstra said. “If the game was 10-minutes longer, I don’t know.”

Defense rules the day: The Cavaliers had just 71 points after three quarters and were shooting 44.3 percent as Miami built a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter. And Cleveland was dependent on two players; James and Irving. The two combined for 62 points on 22-of-47 shooting while the rest of the Cavs were just 13-of-31 from the field. The Cavs finished shooting 44.9 percent.

“We needed to be really solid defensively, especially with them being home,” Dragic said.

What slump?: Waiters was on the court long after his teammates had left following Monday’s shoot-around, working with shooting coach Rob Fodor. It worked. Waiters, who was 4-of-21 his last two games, started the game red hot with 24 first half points, making all but two of shots including all four 3 pointers. He had three driving layups, three midrange jumpers and four 3s. His only misses were at the rim. Waiters hit a rut in the second half, making just 2-of-12 shots but none of that mattered when his last shot hit the glass and went through the basket.

“He’s fearless,” Spoelstra said. “That irrational confidence. Sometimes it drives you nuts. He can do special things out there and if you want to beat a team like this you have to have guys like Dion and Goran that can create something out of nothing.”

Help from his friends: While Waiters carried the Heat early, Wayne Ellington took over in the third quarter before passing the baton to Dragic. Waiters had just two points in the third quarter but Ellington made three 3-point shots to help Miami limit the Cavs run. Then it was Dragic who scored 10 points in the first 2:43 of the fourth quarter as Miami built its biggest lead of the game, 20 points.

“We’re finding the right balance,” Dragic said. “We’re still an attacking team that tries to get into the paint but everybody is worried about us getting into the paint that they are shrinking. Usually when we spray we have a lot of open threes. We’re making those shots. It’s a great balance. If everybody’s involved it’s really tough to defend.”

Shorthanded Heat: Miami was without its top two bench players, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson, and lost Luke Babbitt to back spasms during the game. James Johnson’s right elbow remains sore after he received three stitches to close a cut that happened when he inadvertently elbowed Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert on Saturday. Shumpert chipped his two front teeth on the play. Spoelstra said the team wants to be sure the cut does not get infected. Tyler Johnson’s neck and left shoulder are sore after he “got pinched” while being screened during Friday’s game in Orlando. Tyler, who already sat six games this season with a left shoulder strain and missed three months last year after having rotator cuff surgery on the same shoulder, said he re-aggravated the injury Saturday. Both are hopeful they can play Wednesday at home against Charlotte. Babbitt played nine minutes before his night was through.

“The only thing about what’s happened this season when you end up missing so many guys due to injury guys get used to it,” Spoelstra said. “We missed them but guys are used to the routine, used to the drill, OK next man up.”

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