SAN ANTONIO – For the second straight game the Miami Heat hung with one of the best teams in the NBA for one half.
And for the second straight game the Heat could not finish.
The San Antonio Spurs broke open a close game in the fourth quarter Wednesday before surviving a late Heat run to finish off Miami, 117-105, at the AT&T Center.
The Heat were more competitive than in their 28-point loss to the Warriors on Sunday, but continue to show the gap between them and the upper crust of the NBA.
Miami led by one point at the half before quickly surrendering the lead and falling behind by four at the end of three periods. The Spurs pushed the lead to 15 with about five minutes remaining. Miami cut it to six but ran out of gas dropping its record to 0-11 when trailing after three quarters.
“That’s what they do,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They just get you scrambling. The way they move the ball is exceptional and their pace, even though they don’t play typically a fast pace in terms of scoring, their half court pace is up there with anybody in the league just how hard they run their cuts and how hard they put the ball on the floor.”
The Heat (11-13) have now lost 4-of-5 and nine straight to the Spurs (17-8).
Coach Erik Spoelstra once again shook up the lineup, replacing Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo with James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. The unit started strong but could not get into a flow in the second half as Johnson, who had nine points in the first five minutes and was held scoreless the rest of the way, battling foul trouble.
Spoelstra, though, said the starting lineup could be fluid and depend on matchups while center Hassan Whiteside is out.
Tyler Johnson led the Heat with 25 points off the bench. Dion Waiters added 22 and Josh Richardson had 19.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 18.
Here are our five takeaways:
For starters: Spoelstra rolled out his eighth different starting lineup this season with James Johnson at power forward and Olynyk at center. They joined Goran Dragic, Waiters and Richardson. Johnson replaced Justise Winslow, who had started the last 15 games, 13 at power forward. Olynyk started for just the second time this season, replacing Adebayo. Prior to Wednesday, the five had played 13:24 together this year with a plus-minus of plus-1. The group started fast against San Antonio, giving Miami a 23-20 lead before the first sub while shooting 8-of-13 and assisting on every basket. The first five never got a chance in the second half as Johnson picked up his fourth foul 22 seconds in and was replaced by Winslow.
“I thought we played well,” Olynyk said. “We were moving the ball well. Finding open guys, playing well together. Of course we didn’t get a lot of stops early. I think we were comfortable together. We played well together. It was a good start to the game.”
Tyler Johnson heating up: Johnson looked more like the player who was one of the top reserves in 2016-17. He came off the bench to score 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting. With James Johnson back in the starting lineup, Tyler was Miami’s lone threat off the bench with the rest of the reserves combining for 17 points, including a 2-of-9 shooting night from Winslow.
“The ball went in the basket,” Tyler Johnson said. “That simple. They’re the same shots I’ve been shooting they just haven’t been going until today.”
Offensive improvement: The Heat have been looking for ways to get more offense, maybe this lineup and rotation will be the answer going forward. Miami entered the game 27th in the league in scoring with 100.0 points per game and 23rd in shooting, 44.6 percent. The Heat finished shooting 54.2 percent, including 18-of-34 on 3 pointers, the most threes they have ever had against San Antonio.
“Their were some good things we did, certainly offensively,” Spoelstra said. “It was one of our better at least coherent games other than the (19) turnovers and we just have to get our hands around that and figure out how to get those numbers down, but we had some coherent actions to be able to get the ball wherever we wanted it to go, to get the right people handling in certain spots. That was a little bit of an improvement.”
Heat crossing the southern border: The Heat will arrive in Mexico City early Thursday morning in preparation for Saturday’s game at the 22,300-seat Arena Ciudad de Mexico. The games will mark Miami’s first outside the United States and Canada, although the Heat have played preseason games in Nassau, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Paris, London, Beijing, Shanghai and Rio de Janeiro. Miami has scheduled two practices to help acclimate to playing more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
So long, Spurs: The good news, the Spurs are added to the list of teams the Heat are done playing this season. The other team on that list: The Warriors. That means Miami no longer has to face two of the best teams in the Western Conference, two teams in which they went 0-4 against this season. On Sunday, Spoelstra said he was happy he would not have to see the Warriors again this season. He likely feels the same about the Spurs.