How intense were Heat’s practices leading up to win vs. Celtics? Dragic called them ‘toughest practices’ in his career

MIAMI — The Heat aren’t a team that let practice days go to waste.

Miami has built a reputation over the years for its long and grueling practice sessions. But the level of intensity in this week’s practices leading up to Wednesday’s critical 104-98 win over the Celtics even caught Heat players by surprise.

“Brutal, man,” center Hassan Whiteside said after Wednesday’s victory. “Coach was working us hard. They were brutal, brutal practices. Hard.”

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra shouts from the bench during action against the Boston Celtics at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

That’s because Miami (8-9) wasn’t playing up to the standards it set for itself entering the season, and Sunday’s ugly 120-95 home loss to the Pacers proved that. With two days in between Sunday’s loss to Indiana and Wednesday’s game against Boston, coach Erik Spoelstra challenged his players on the practice court for two consecutive days Monday and Tuesday.

“I would have rather went through training camp, to be honest,” Heat tri-captain James Johnson said Wednesday night. “They were tough, nitty-gritty [practices]. Everybody set a precedence for themselves and it was just full of inspiring moments that you couldn’t believe guys got back to guys or closed out to guys that were 20 feet away, things like that. Like I said, we set a bar not only for each other, but ourselves. We found out that once we take our excuses away that we can really do a lot of things.”

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The Heat responded in a big way to snap the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak and earn a much-needed victory before embarking on a four-game trip that begins Friday against the Timberwolves.

Miami’s success began on the defensive end as it contested 79 of Boston’s 84 shots to limit the Celtics to 41.7 percent shooting. That’s more than usual, as the Heat entered Wednesday contesting an average of 63.4 shots per game this season.

This increase in defensive activity isn’t a surprise, considering that Whiteside said he had a few 20-foot closeouts on Kelly Olynyk during practice this week.

“Guys really brought a purity to the work, a focus, a discipline the last two days and we got after it,” Spoelstra said Wednesday night. “It was training-camp level practices, but you’re not always able to do that during the course of the season, and snap into attention. So all those little things, that’s what I want to see.”

Goran Dragic called them “probably the toughest practices that I was a part of in my career.” They reminded Wayne Ellington of the competitive practices the Heat had during their 30-11 run over the final 41 games last season.

“We got after it, man, to say the least. We got after it,” Ellington said Wednesday night. “Those were the type of practices that we had last year when we decided to go ahead and turn the corner. We understood that that’s what we needed to do to be the type of team we needed to be.

“When you compete hard like that, there’s no hiding. Either you’re competing or you’re not. So it just translated to the game.”

But with those tiring practices now in the past, Heat players are hoping there won’t be too many more of them moving forward. Wins should keep them away.

“Whatever it takes not to go through those two practices we went through leading up to this game, let’s do it,” Johnson said.

Walton back in Sioux Falls: Guard Derrick Walton Jr. rejoined the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics.

Walton’s two-way contract allows him to spend up to 45 days this season with the Heat. After his latest stint in the NBA, 12 of those days have already been used.

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