CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Heat have overcome a lot this season, but it looked like there was just too much to overcome Saturday.
The second night of a back-to-back set, the fifth game in seven days, injuries to Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and a 105-100 deficit with less than a minute remaining.
But somehow, some way the Heat pulled it off. Miami (27-19) overcame all off that to earn a miraculous 106-105 win over Charlotte (18-26) at Spectrum Center.
“You use the regular season to harden yourselves,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve been through a tough stretch. This would have been an easy one just to say we had an emotional game last night, had to travel, whatever how many games we’ve had to play in seven nights. You use these opportunities to test yourself, measure yourself and see if you can develop some competitive character collectively when the chips are down.”
Miami made the most of that opportunity.
Down 105-100 with less than a minute remaining, the Heat outscored the Hornets 6-0 over the final 34 seconds to complete the dramatic comeback. The game-winning shot came on a free throw from Kelly Olynyk with 0.2 seconds remaining after he was fouled by Dwight Howard while trying to push the ball up the court.
Wayne Ellington finished with a team-high 26 points and made six of 10 3-pointers. James Johnson finished with 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists, scoring 20 or more for the first time since Nov. 17.
The Charlotte duo of Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum combined for 48 points, playing well enough to give the Hornets a 10-point lead after three quarters.
But the fourth quarter belonged to the Heat, as they won the period 33-22. Olynyk scored 14 of his 16 points and also grabbed seven rebounds in the fourth to lead Miami’s rally.
With the win, the Heat held on to the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and moved to within one-half game of the No. 3 Cleveland Cavaliers. Miami is 9-2 over its past 11 games.
Here are our five takeaways …
How did the Heat win this game?: A Heat victory looked very unlikely. Miami trailed 101-91 with 4:03 remaining and trailed 105-100 with less than a minute remaining. But Miami never gave up and began its dramatic comeback down by five with just seconds to go. Heat forward James Johnson started things off with a dunk with 34 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 105-102. Josh Richardson then ripped the ensuing inbounds pass out of Nicolas Batum’s hands and found Johnson for an open 3-pointer just 3.7 seconds later to tie the game at 105 with 30 seconds remaining. After Kemba Walker missed a fadeaway jumper with 5.5 seconds remaining, the Heat got one last chance to win the game in regulation. Despite having one timeout, Miami decided not to use it and Kelly Olynyk pushed the ball down the court after grabbing the rebound from Walker’s missed shot. As the seconds ticked off the clock, Hornets center Dwight Howard made contact with Olynyk and a foul was called with 0.2 seconds remaining. Olynyk missed the first free throw, but made the second to give the Heat a 106-105 lead. That score would stick, as the Hornets couldn’t get a shot off with so little time remaining. Miami’s comeback was complete.
“This one was awesome,” Richardson said of the late-game rally. “For the guys to stay in the game after being down 10 in the fourth, it takes a lot of mental toughness.”
The injury bug has hit Dragic: What’s the severity of Goran Dragic’s injury? That’s unclear. Here’s what is known, though. Dragic suffered a bruised left knee during Wednesday’s Heat win over the Bucks in Milwaukee, but played through it and ended up re-aggravating the injury during Friday’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. He went through extensive treatment leading up to Saturday’s game in Charlotte, but he was not able to play against the Hornets. It marked the fourth game Dragic has missed this season, as he missed three in December with a sore left elbow. Since the start of last season, the Heat are 4-9 in games Dragic has been out. In addition to Dragic, guard Tyler Johnson missed his third consecutive game with a sprained left ankle, and Dion Waiters (left ankle sprain), Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and Okaro White (left foot surgery) are still out indefinitely. With three of Miami’s primary ball handlers out — Dragic, Johnson and Waiters — Wayne Ellington took Dragic’s spot in the starting lineup and starting forwards Josh Richardson and James Johnson assumed most of the point guard duties.
Paint battle tells the story: After the Heat dominated the battle in the paint 32-14 in the first half, it completely flipped in the second half. The Hornets outscored the Heat 32-18 in the paint over the final two quarters. In the end, Miami still won the paint battle 50-46. This turned out to be a microcosm for the game. Miami dominated early to take a nine-point lead into halftime. Charlotte rallied in the second half to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. But the Heat still found a way to win the game and in the paint.
Winslow turning into 3-point threat?: One of the big questions entering the season was, will Justise Winslow ever develop into a consistent 3-point shooter? Now, the question is, will Winslow ever miss from 3-point range? The 21-year-old finished Saturday’s game with three points on 1-of-1 shooting from 3-point range and three rebounds. He’s now made 10 of his last 12 3-point shots, a stretch that began with a 4-of-4 performance from 3-point land on Dec. 9 against the Nets. Winslow is shooting 44.7 percent on 3-pointers this season. That’s a big improvement considering he made just 25.8 percent of his threes over the first two seasons of his NBA career.
The road trip continues: The Heat are near the end of a five-game trip that spans eight days, but there’s still one game standing between them and a return trip to Miami. The Heat will close the trip Monday against the Rockets in Houston. It’s been an interesting week on the road for Miami, a week that’s included injuries to guards Tyler Johnson (left ankle sprain) and Goran Dragic (bruised left knee), encouraging wins over the Bucks and Hornets and also disappointing losses to the Bulls and the Nets. Through it all, the Heat are 2-2 through the first four games of the trip. Let’s see if it will become a winning trip Monday in Houston.
“It was a tough game last night,” Olynyk said, looking back at Friday’s loss to the Nets. “Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted. We could have done some things a little bit better. It was really big to come in here and get a win for us just on this road trip, standings wise, confidence wise, being a couple men down. All of that cumulatively, I think it’s a great win for us.”