OAKLAND, Calif. — When a team faces the defending NBA champions on the road and on the second night of a back-to-back set, that’s pretty much the definition of a “scheduled loss.”
That’s the situation the Heat were in Monday night, as Golden State cruised to a 97-80 victory over Miami at Oracle Arena. The loss dropped the Heat to 1-2 on on their six-game road trip, with Sunday’s win over the Clippers the only thing standing between Miami and a 0-3 start to the trip.
“This game was kind of in our wheelhouse if we played with more intensity,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “It was a low-scoring game. You have a chance on the road if you play this kind of defense. But our offense put us in trouble some times. It is what it is. It was back-to-back for us. We were a little bit tired. But no excuses. They were better than us.”
Miami managed to keep it close for most of the first half. But with the game tied at 37, the Warriors blew it open with a 16-3 run to enter halftime with a 50-37 lead.
Golden State’s lead grew to as many as 23 points with the help of 21 points from Kevin Durant and 26 fast-break points.
Miami struggled to take care of the ball with 23 turnovers and shot just 36.1 percent from the field. Center Hassan Whiteside wasn’t himself either, as he finished with three points on 1-of-9 shooting and five rebounds in 16 minutes before being pulled from the game early in the third quarter.
James Johnson was the Heat’s star Monday with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The Heat were without starting shooting guard Dion Waiters for the second consecutive game, as he’s been away from the team for the birth of his daughter.
Here are our five takeaways:
It wasn’t Hassan’s best game: In fact, it wasn’t even a good game. Whiteside finished with just three points on 1-of-9 shooting and five rebounds in 16 minutes before being pulled from the game early in the third quarter. Before this poor performance, he had recorded double-digit points in 28 consecutive games. This streak began after Whiteside finished with just two points in a win over Atlanta on Feb. 24. But it’s not just the points that left the Heat wanting more from Whiteside. He wasn’t himself on the defensive end either and one sequence seemed to especially anger coach Erik Spoelstra. With Whiteside arguing an offensive foul call, Warriors center Zaza Pachulia ran past him for a layup. Spoelstra pulled Whiteside from the game 14 seconds later with 10:47 to go in the third quarter. He remained on the bench for the rest of the game as he sat out the final 22:47 seconds of the contest, looking disinterested and disengaged at times.
“It’s a coach’s decision,” Spoelstra said of benching Whiteside. “That’s what it really came down to. It’s nothing bigger, more than that, this is one game. He understands how important he is to our ball club, to play at high level, high energy level. And so we’ll move on to Phoenix and look to have a much better game, much more committed game in all facets.”
The Warriors are really, really good: But you already knew that. Golden State entered the game with the NBA’s top net rating at 12.6, which is a reliable team performance measure that’s the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive ratings (OR-DR). By comparison, Miami entered ranked 22nd in this category at -2.2. The gap between the two teams was just as big on the court Monday, as the Warriors earned a 17-point win despite shooting 36.8 percent from the field. This takeaway is no revelation, though, with Golden State the overwhelming favorite to win the NBA title again this season.
The quick hook: Okaro White has now made four consecutive starts at power forward for the Heat. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to get big minutes every night. Monday’s game was the perfect example of that, as White played the first 3:49 of the game before being subbed out for James Johnson. White played just 11 seconds over the rest of the first half. He finished scoreless in eight minutes of action. This is White’s role this season. Even when he’s in the starting lineup, his playing time will fluctuate. Just think Luke Babbitt when you think of White’s place on this team. His ability to start games allows Johnson to stay in the bench role he excelled in last season.
Defense, defense, defense: The Heat needed a lot of it to keep up with the Warriors. And Miami played well on the defensive end, holding Golden State to a season-low 36.8 percent shooting. But it still wasn’t enough to beat the Warriors. The negative result doesn’t erase Miami’s impressive defensive performance, though. Josh Richardson, in particular, was a force on this end. Richardson defended all four of Golden State’s stars — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green — during the game. The Heat have struggled to find their defensive identity to start the season, as they entered the game with the league’s 17th-best defensive rating. But Monday was a step in the right direction.
“That’s what we got to bring every night,” James Johnson said of the Heat’s defensive performance. “The offense is not always going to be there in terms of knocking down shots or finishing at the rim like we plan. But we can always have effort on the defensive end and we can always play our style there.”
The road trip continues: Yes, the Heat are now just 1-2 on the six-game trip after losing to Golden State. But if the goal is to finish this road stretch 3-3, Miami is in pretty good position. Next up for the Heat is a winnable game against the Suns (4-7) on Wednesday before facing the .500 Jazz (5-5) on Friday. Miami will close the trip with a Sunday matchup against the surprising Pistons (7-3). If the Heat can win two of their next three games, they can consider this season-long six-game road stretch a success.