TORONTO – Hassan Whiteside had 20 rebounds. James Johnson matched his season high of 26 points in his first start of the season.
And Goran Dragic? All he did was score 33 points (one shy of his season high), 19 of those in the first half when the Miami Heat were just trying to keep the Charlotte Hornets from seizing momentum.
But Dragic’s performance was overlooked in Miami’s 112-99 spirit-lifting win at Charlotte on Wednesday, a game that buoyed their playoff hopes after two demoralizing losses at home. Dragic got Miami into the 3-point mindset early with two quick baskets from beyond the arc and then steadied the team through the ups and few downs, as he has done all season as Miami’s true leader.
“Hassan, Goran and JJ really set the tone at the beginning of the game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
But Dragic has done this so often – he has been Miami’s best and most consistent player from start to finish this season – it is easy to overlook his steady contribution.
Dragic pushed the ball. He attacked the rim. He stepped back and made 3 pointers (five in all).
He was in perpetual motion.
And, while no one had the ball in his hands more than Dragic (his usage percentage was a game-high 32.9), he had just one turnover to go along with four assists.
“In our minds we were saying we need to keep the pace up because it was a back-to-back for them and especially in the third quarter we came out aggressive and made some big shots,” Dragic said.
Dragic scored 11 points in the second quarter, as Charlotte kept pushing to make a run but could not muster anything more than a one point lead.
The last tie of the game, which came one minute into the third quarter, disappeared on a Dragic 3 pointer. Miami pushed that lead to 17 as Dragic scored 10 in the quarter before settling for the 13-point win.
“Dragic has had some big games, and that’s what they needed,” Hornets center Cody Zeller said.