Five takeaways: Heat let big lead slip away in painful loss to Trail Blazers

Miami Heat forward James Johnson, center, loses control of the ball as he drives against Portland Trail Blazers guard Shabazz Napier, rear, and forward Jake Layman (10) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI — Painful is one way to describe Wednesday’s loss. Heat guard Wayne Ellington described it as “tough to swallow.”

Both apply.

It looked like Miami was on its way to winning its third consecutive game, leading Portland by 16 points with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter. But then that big lead escaped Miami’s grasp, as the Trail Blazers (14-13) came all the way back to earn a 102-95 comeback win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday.

“These games, these ones are tough to swallow,” said Ellington, who finished with a team-high 24 points. “We played about 43 minutes of Miami Heat basketball and then we kind of let them guys catch momentum and put us on our heels. We’ve got to get better at that. We’ve got to get better at finishing it out.”

The loss drops Miami’s overall record to 13-14 and home record to 5-7. On the other side, the win snapped Portland’s five-game losing streak.

The Trail Blazers’ starting backcourt of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard combined for 46 points on 46.7 percent shooting, including 23 points in the second half. Meanwhile, the Heat’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters struggled with a combined 28 points on 33.3 percent shooting.

Here are our five takeaways …

Letting it slip away: The Heat led by 16 points with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter. But they let it go to waste, as the Trail Blazers outscored the Heat 52-35 in the second half. The fourth quarter was especially bad for Miami, as the Heat scored just 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the period. By comparison, Portland scored 32 points on 55 percent shooting in the final quarter. Despite all of these second-half struggles, the Heat still had a chance down the stretch with the game tied 95-95 with 2:46 to go. But Portland scored the final seven points of the game to clinch the comeback win.

“It was a possession game going down the stretch,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You’re not guaranteed when you get up that you’re going to be able to stay up 16. They’re a very good team. They’re a desperate team. They had lost five straight before that. It really came down to better, more intentional, more purposeful execution going down the stretch. They executed. We had opportunities and we didn’t get quite the shots that we wanted to.”

The Damian Lillard challenge: The last time Lillard was in AmericanAirlines Arena, he scored 49 points on 14-of-21 shooting in a win over the Heat on March 19 last season. While Portland’s star guard didn’t get close to those numbers Wednesday, he played a big role in the comeback. Lillard finished with 18 points on 5-of-14 shooting. That’s definitely not his best stat line, but he was effective when it mattered most. Lillard contributed a team-high nine points in the fourth quarter.

“Really, you almost hate seeing him have a pedestrian box score stat line going into the fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said of Lillard. “You know he’s not going to sit back and not put his fingerprints on the game going down the stretch, and he certainly did that.”

Wayne Ellington, the sharpshooter: What does Ellington do best? Shoot threes. And he made a lot of them against Portland, finishing with 24 points, his most in a game as a member of the Heat, with the help of a 7-of-10 shooting display on 3-pointers. He exploded for 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 shooting from long range in the first half. Ellington tied a franchise record with six threes in a half. Brian Shaw is the only other Heat player to accomplish this feat when he did it in 1993. This is actually the second time this season Ellington has made six 3-pointers in a half, as he also pulled it off in the Heat’s win over the Hawks on Oct. 23.

“That’s Wayne. He’s ignitable,” Spoelstra said. “He’s going to run his patterns full speed every single time as if the play is run for him. Like a great wide receiver, you’re going to have to run 25 patterns as hard as you can and you may only get the ball four times. But he’s going to run every single one, even the ones where he’s potentially a decoy. He’s going to run it like it’s run for him and we say it all the time, the ball finds energy. The ball is finding him and he took care of the rest. It’s a shame to have that kind of offensive output off the bench, and we weren’t able to close it out.”

Heat’s depth is being tested: The Heat were already without Hassan Whiteside, Rodney McGruder and Okaro White entering Wednesday’s game. But Miami learned shortly before tip-off that it would face Portland without sixth man Tyler Johnson, who missed the contest with a migraine. If that wasn’t enough, Justise Winslow left Wednesday’s game in the first half with a left knee strain and didn’t return. Without all of those players, the Heat used with a seven-man rotation in the second half. Tired legs from this short rotation could have contributed to Miami’s disappointing finish. Johnson’s migraine issue is expected to be a short-term setback. Winslow’s immediate future is unknown. Winslow’s left knee will be re-evaluated Thursday, but he said after the game he’s not worried about the injury.

“It’s just feeling tight,” Winslow said of his left knee. “I’m not sure how I [injured it]. It just feels tight. … It was just increasingly tight before the game and I tried to give it a go and it’s just tight, and I didn’t want to take away from the team. So I just removed myself.”

Erik Spoelstra will have to wait: Spoelstra entered Wednesday just one win away from tying mentor Pat Riley for the franchise regular-season record for victories by a Heat coach. And Spoelstra ended Wednesday in the same position after losing to Portland. Riley amassed 454 wins in 11 seasons as the Heat’s coach, and Spoelstra — in the middle of his 10th season at the helm — is at 453 victories. When is the next chance for Spoelstra to tie Riley? Friday against the Hornets.

[Hassan Whiteside’s bone bruise on knee improving, but still no timetable for return]

[Heat to gain trade flexibility this week — what does it mean?]

[Mailbag: Has Bam Adebayo earned a spot in Heat’s rotation even when Hassan Whiteside returns from injury?]

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