NEW YORK – The contributions are coming in baby steps for the Justise Winslow, something expected after missing 14 games with a knee injury that had the Heat’s third-year forward frustrated.
But Wednesday in Milwaukee was a breakthrough of sorts as Winslow played 27 minutes, the most in his three games since returning, including joining Josh Richardson as the lone to Heat players on the floor for the entire fourth quarter, when Miami outscored the Bucks by six points and pulled away in the final five minutes for a 106-101 victory.
Winslow’s totals were modest – six points, one rebounds, three assists – but he showed why the Heat continue to profess faith in the 21-year-old as some wonder if he ever will be worthy of the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Coach Erik Spoelstra put the ball in Winslow’s hands at the start of the fourth quarter, sending him onto the floor along with Richardson, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk and rookie Bam Adebayo. He finished the quarter without a turnover.
“He did a little bit of everything but you could see the versatility down the stretch just in terms of what we could do defensively,” Spoelstra said. “A lot of Swiss Army knife guys that can switch, contain the ball, eliminate some of their triggers.
“You have to have the right kind of players who can to that. and then he made some plays down the end. Obviously the three, but he handled for us when they started to step up the pressure, to take some of that pressure from J-Rich. And he got us into coherent offense and that helps.”
This is the role Spoelstra and Winslow envisioned when Winslow returned. Five weeks ago, when he was injured, the Heat were a different team, and not as good. The 6-foot-7 Winslow had seen most of his time as an undersized/versatile power forward.
Now, Miami is 26-18 heading into Friday’s game at Brooklyn and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
But as Olynyk started to find his groove in the offense and Adebayo emerged, the need was not there for another power. Winslow expected he would see more minutes in a role that was new to him this season, as a facilitator.
“Everybody gets a chance to feel the ball and just get us into offense,” Winslow said. “But just being a guy that’s been more off the ball, it helps when you can bring the ball up. We got unselfish guys, so it’s going to be different guys different nights. Sometimes we don’t want (Goran Dragic) on the ball. (We) try to get him some action off the ball … get him some easier looks.”
Winslow’s three was as big a shot as there was in the game. The Heat has just broken a 93-93 tie on a lob pass from Winslow to Hassan Whiteside. After a Whiteside block, Dragic rebounded, pushed the ball and found Winslow, whose shot pushed the Heat lead to five points with 3:16 to play.
“It felt great,” Winslow said, flashing a big smile. “It came at a big point in the game. My teammates trust me. I’m confident in myself. I wish I could have made some of the other shots, but I made it when it counted.”
Winslow was 2-of-5 for the game but the two were 3-pointers. He has made all three of his 3-point attempts since returning to push his season percentage from deep to .432. He entered the year shooting.258 on threes in his career.
“Our bench coming in really took control of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said. “(Olynyk) obviously was clutch with his baskets, we were running our offense almost exclusively through him and he was alleviating a lot of the pressure getting free and making something out of nothing a few times, some really clever plays down the stretch.
“But that whole second unit with Justise, Wayne and KO and Bam did a tremendous job.”