MIAMI – Pat Riley saw something in Erik Spoelstra long before anybody else.
So in 2008, when Riley decided to concentrate on his executive duties and end his Hall of Fame coaching career, he chose Spoelstra as his successor.
As it turned out, he hired the man who would erase all his records.
Already holding the record for most postseason wins and highest winning percentage among coaches, Spoelstra became the Miami Heat’s all-time winningest regular-season coach Saturday as the Heat held on for an ugly 90-85 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I thought it would be most fitting to go retro and have an old-school Miami Heat game in honor of Coach Riley,” Spoelstra said. “This is the type of game he probably enjoys the most. Those are the old school, tough, grind it out, find any way as a competitor to win the game. That’s in honor of my mentor and my coach. He’s still my coach.”
The Heat led for most of the game but allowed the Clippers (11-17) to hang around before Miami scored the final six points of the game.
The Heat (15-14) have won four of five games and are a season-high one game above .500 for the third time this season.
Riley was 454-395 in 11 seasons with the Heat, a .535 winning percentage. Spoelstra, who took over from Riley before the 2008-09 season, is 455-296 for a franchise-best .606 winning percentage. Spoelstra’s 70 postseason wins are 36 more than Riley had with the Heat.
Josh Richardson led the Heat with a career-high 28 points and Dion Waiters added 13 as Miami shot just 37.8 percent from the field.
DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 20 rebounds for the Clippers.
The Heat, already shorthanded with Hassan Whiteside (bruised left knee) and Justise Winslow (left knee sprain) sidelined, lost James Johnson, who left the game midway through the first quarter with a sprained right ankle.
The Clippers were without Blake Griffin (left MCL sprain), Patrick Beverly (right knee surgery), Danilo Gallinari (left glute contusion) and Austin Rivers (concussion.
Here are our five takeaways from the win:
Heat avert what could have been another inexcusable loss: Miami led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter and never trailed until L.A. took a 77-75 lead with 6:09 to play. Kelly Olynyk then scored six of his 11 points before the Clippers regained the lead, 85-84. But Goran Dragic’s biggest basket of the game gave the Heat an 86-85 lead and started a 6-0 Heat run to end the game and seal the win.
“I really enjoyed this game for our guys,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys really wanted to play well here at home and put together a real 48-minute performance for our fans. It didn’t necessarily turn out that way. But I like our guys having to go through those emotions, having to grind out through adversity, frustration, things not going your way and have the mental perseverance just to find any way to get a win. I think this is something teams can grow from.”
Richardson to the rescue: With the offense bogged down for most of the night, the Heat needed everything it got from Richardson. The third-year swingman was the only starter to shoot better than 50 percent, making 10-of-16 shots. The rest of the starters were 13-of-35. Richardson continued to bail the Heat out, making several shots while everybody else was standing around. His biggest shot came with 3:35 to play, a 3-pointer that broke a 79-all tie to give the Heat a three-point lead. Richardson’s two free throws with 20 second remaining pushed the Heat’s lead to three points.
“He’s just so steady,” Spoelstra said. “The ball was in his hands quite a bit tonight, getting us organized. It wasn’t at first necessarily him scoring, but he was getting guys in the right spots, getting all the play calls. In the second half, I was leaving all the play calls up to him.”
Tyler Johnson final cools down: Johnson entered the game averaging 16.7 points and shooting a sizzling 64.3 percent – 62.5 on threes – in his past six games. That hot streak came to an end Saturday, as Johnson missed all nine of his shot, including four 3-pointers.
“We’re not even worried about Tyler,” Dragic said. “Of course, he had a tough game. People only see he was missing shots. He did a lot of good stuff on the defensive end. We know he’s going to bounce back.”
Dominated in the paint: The Clippers were in the game solely on their ability to score in the paint. L.A. had 48 points in the paint, compared to Miami’s 22. The Clippers three big men – DeAndre Jordan, Montrezl Harrell and Willie Reed had 27 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Meanwhile, the Clippers starting backcourt of Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic was a combined 9-of-30.
Bam Adebayo, who had seven points and five rebounds in 28 minutes, said he was “just trying to keep (Jordan) out of the paint, that’s easier said than done. Keep my ball screens, limiting his lobs. I feel like we did a good job at that.”
Injuries mounting, again: Whiteside, who continues to rehabilitate his bruised left knee, missed his ninth consecutive game and Winslow sat for the second time since suffering a left knee strain, and now, Miami could be without James Johnson because of his ankle injury. All of which means the emergence of Jordan Mickey has come at a good time for the Heat. Spoelstra said Johnson will have an MRI on Sunday.
“It’s a lower-leg injury,” Spoelstra said after the game. “He was getting treatment. He going to get out of here and get some rest. We’ll find out tomorrow.”
Back on the road: The Heat hit the road for one more short trip before a nice home stretch. Miami plays at Atlanta on Monday and Boston on Wednesday before returning to play 7-of-8 games at AmericanAirlines Arena, the lone road game at Orlando. After facing the Celtics, the Heat will have played 18 games on the road and 13 at home.
“We beat two solid teams in two days,” Richardson said about the wins over Charlotte and the Clippers. “I think we can turn this into momentum. We’re showing signs of improvement.”