MIAMI – This is the way it has to be for the Miami Heat.
Nothing comes easy. Especially at home.
After a difficult overtime victory over the Knicks on Friday, the Heat needed a Josh Richardson layup and rare second-half miss by Donovan Mitchell in the final five seconds Sunday to escape with a 103-102 victory Sunday at American Airlines Arena, pushing Miami’s winning streak to a season-high four games.
Richardson took the pass from Goran Dragic at the top of circle and exploded to the basket past Darrick Flavors and made the layup with 5.1 seconds to play.
“I saw Donovan (Mitchell) get hung up on a good screen Kelly (Olynyk) set,” Richardson said. “It was just me and Favors so I just took advantage of the speed difference.”
But the Jazz had one last chance and Mitchell, the sensational rookie, misfired on a leaning jumper.
“It looked like it had a chance from my angle,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Heat (22-17) have won 11-of-15 to climb into the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Jazz (16-24) have lost 13-of-16. Miami sweeps the season series with Utah for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Dragic and Tyler Johnson led the Heat with 16 points each. Richardson closed with 14 points and James Johnson added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Mitchell led all scorers with 27 points.
Here are our five takeaways.
The closer: Richardson was not having one of his standout games we’ve seen for the last five weeks, but the third-year guard was the Heat’s closer on Sunday. Aside from the game-winner, Richardson scored on a cutting layup with 1:23 to play to pull the Heat to within five points and created a turnover by diving on the floor for a loose ball. The Heat’s best player this season had half of his points in the final quarter and is the reason Miami is feeling very good about this recent stretch of games.
“He’s ready for the next jump, the jump is ready for him,” Spoelstra said. “It’s just now a matter of when.”
Another home rally: Miami trailed by eight with seven minutes to play and its last lead before Richardson’s game-winner was the first time Miami led since 10 minutes remained. Miami, which played shaky defense for much of the second half (Utah shot 50 percent the final 24 minutes), clamped down late, limiting Utah to two points in the final two minutes.
“We had to make up some ground,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve given up some games we wish we could have had back, quite frankly. We need to steal some and when you have these opportunities at home even if you’re being out-played just to find a way to show some resiliency, some toughness, some grit and get over the hump, forget about whether it’s a well-played game or not but just find a way at the end and that’s what the guys were able to do.”
Oh, what could have been: Mitchell was on the board when Denver’s pick came up in the draft. The Nuggets were at No. 13, one spot ahead of the Heat. Denver took the high scoring guard out of Louisville and then, in a move they surely are regretting, traded him to Utah for Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles. While Lydon has played in one game and Lyles is averaging 10.4 points, Mitchell has been one of the two best rookies in the class along with Boston’s Jayson Tatum. And the Heat saw why. Mitchell scored 19 of his points and the second half and was 12-of-25 from floor overall. That pick one spot after Mitchell: Bam Adebayo.
“Mitchell versus any coverage, versus any player the majority of the game he was just able to get clean looks all game long,” Spoelstra said. “He made it look easy. But he’s a superb athlete and he can shoot it and put the ball on the floor.”
Balanced scoring: The Heat’s calling card this season has been balance and it showed up Sunday. The Heat had six players finish between 12 and 16 points and at one point late in the first half Miami had seven players between five and seven points.
“We are a team that has strengths in numbers,” Spoelstra said. “But eventually guys start to emerge as well. When we do have a balanced attack everybody will feel involved, everybody will be a threat. It will be different guys on different nights.”
On the road again: The Heat took advantage of the most favorable portion of their schedule, going 11-4 in their last 15 games. Now, after playing seven of their last eight games at home, Miami hits the road this week with back-to-back games at Toronto and Indiana, the start of a stretch in which it plays 11-of-14 games on the road. The Heat have moved into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference and now must show they can win the difficult games on the road.
“We didn’t play good (at home) at the beginning of the season, we were a better team on the road, now it’s time to (continue) that we are good on the road,” Dragic said. “That’s a lot of games away from home but I think we are ready for that.”