Five takeaways from Heat-Jazz: This long road trip is already a success

Miami Heat forward Josh Richardson (0) celebrates after scoring a 3-pointer against the Utah Jazz in the second half during an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — In an NBA full of points and fast-paced play, the Heat and Jazz went back in time to the days of grind-it-out games.

Miami (6-6) survived the defensive duel to defeat Utah 84-74 at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Friday. With the win, the Heat moved to 3-2 on their six-game trip.

“Pat [Riley] wasn’t with us tonight, but he would be proud of this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is a total throwback to the ’90s. We knew that coming in, that this would be vastly different than the Phoenix game and that this game would feel like it’s being played in the mud.”

It was the Jazz defense that dominated in the first half, holding the Heat to 12 points on 3-of-19 shooting in the second quarter to enter halftime with a 12-point lead.

But the Heat’s defense was incredible the rest of the way, limiting the Jazz to 5.6 percent shooting ( 1-of 18) in the third quarter and 12.1 percent shooting (4-of-33) in the second half. Utah (5-7) finished the game with a shooting percentage of 33.8.

Dion Waiters took care of the rest.

With the Heat trailing 74-71 with 3:07 to go in the game, Waiters scored 10 of the team’s final 13 points to help Miami close the game on a 13-0 run to earn the victory. Before this run, Waiters — who finished with a team-high 21 points — was shooting 4-of-17 from the field.

Heat center Hassan Whiteside made an impact on both ends of the court with eight points, 20 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in his matchup against Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Meanwhile, Gobert finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Here are our five takeaways …

Defense, defense, defense: Dominant is one way you can describe the Heat’s defensive performance Friday. Terrific, incredible and stingy are others. Miami limited Utah to 4-of-33 shooting in the second half to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit. It marked the fewest amount of field goals in a single half for any Heat opponent in team history. Behind its defense, Miami outscored Utah 47-25 over the final two quarters. And this isn’t just a one-game thing, the Heat’s defense has been trending in the right direction during this road trip. Since the start of the trip, Miami has posted the league’s fourth-best defensive rating at 97.1.

“Defense. Simple as that. Defense,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said when asked what the difference was in the second half. “We played awesome. The first half they scored too many points. They got everything they wanted. They scored a season-high 50 points in the first half. When we came to the locker room we said we needed to be more aggressive, especially defensively. Our defense was on point, especially that second half.”

Hassan Whiteside dominates … in the second half: After a poor first-half performance in Monday’s loss to the Warriors, Whiteside was benched early in the third quarter. But the Heat’s $98 million center didn’t let a disappointing first half get in the way Friday. Whiteside said he asked out early in the game because the bone bruise in his left knee, which forced him to miss time earlier this season, was bothering him. He scored just four points on 1-of-4 shooting in 13 minutes over the first two quarters. But Whiteside came alive to record four points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in the second half Friday. He finished with eight points, 20 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Whiteside was at the center of the Heat’s historic defensive performance. And to make it even sweeter for Whiteside, this performance came against All-NBA second-team center Rudy Gobert.

“I would say Hassan’s eight-point game is one of the most inspiring games he’s had in a Miami Heat uniform, really anchored our defense,” Spoelstra said. “Guys were making inspiring plays because of what they saw him doing. It was great to see. It’s not one of those box scores from a points standpoint that will jump off the page, but his impact was incredible.”

Dion Waiters is a closer: Yes, Dion Waiters started the game 4-of-17 from the field. No, he didn’t care. Waiters still had the confidence to score 10 of the Heat’s final 13 points to help Miami close the game on a 13-0 run. The three points Waiters didn’t score during the spurt, he assisted on when Josh Richardson made a 3-pointer with 1:27 remaining in the contest. Waiters is averaging a team-high 5.9 points in the fourth quarter on 58.8 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from 3-point range. That’s pretty good.

“In the fourth quarter when I was on the bench, I just told myself: ‘Just stay with it. You’re getting the shots that you want. Unfortunately they’re not falling. But don’t stop taking them,'” Waiters said. “Like I said last year and I’ll say it again, I would rather go 0-for-30 than go 0-for-9 because if you stop shooting them that means you lost confidence.”

Winslow faces a big power forward and survives: This was Justise Winslow’s first real test against a traditional power forward. Winslow made his second consecutive start at the four, with Jazz forward Derrick Favors as his counterpart. That means the 6-foot-7 Winslow had to find a way to make up for his size disadvantage against the 6-foot-10, 265-pound Favors. There were times Favors used his size to bully Winslow, but it was never enough to force Winslow off the court. Favors finished with six points and one rebound. Winslow ended the night with four points and six rebounds. The Heat are now 2-0 with Winslow as their starting power forward.

The Heat have clinched a successful road trip: The Heat won’t have a losing road trip, and that’s a big deal. With Friday’s win, Miami moved to 3-2 on its season-long six-game trip. That means the worst the Heat can finish during this road stretch is 3-3. Miami will close it out with a Sunday afternoon game against the surprising Pistons (9-3). This trip has not been easy with six road games scheduled in a span of 10 days, and the Heat traveling from Colorado to California to Arizona to Utah and now to Detroit. If Miami can somehow find a way to defeat the Pistons, a 4-2 mark would be better than anybody could have imagined.

“We talked about this road trip, like all other long ones, is an opportunity for you to develop your competitive character,” Spoelstra said. “And we got knocked in the jaw that first night in Denver, but we continued to plug away, stay connected. You can turn those painful times into something you can grow from. But the road trip is not over. We can enjoy this one for a day, try to enjoy the ‘Canes-Irish game tomorrow and get ready for a big game on Sunday and try to close it out.”

[Spoelstra discusses the end of Heat’s Big Three era: ‘I look at that team with so much respect and joy’]

[For Heat, ‘boring’ offense is better. A look at what was different about offense vs. Suns]

[Erik Spoelstra on Rodney McGruder accompanying Heat on road trip: ‘It’s great. It’s also annoying.’]

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