MIAMI – The Miami Heat overcame one of their worst stretches of the season to avoid what would have been another disheartening loss.
After watching a six-point halftime lead turn into a 15-point deficit, the Heat rallied for a 95-91 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Wayne Ellington sealed the win with a 3-point shot from the top of the key with four seconds remaining, accounting for the final score. The shot came as the 24-second clock was getting ready to expire.
Josh Richardson came up big in the final minutes, scoring five consecutive points and recording a steal to turn a 90-87 deficit into a 92-90 lead. Charlotte scored one point in the final 3:34.
Miami (28-21) salvaged this short two-game home stand after losing Thursday to the worst team in the league, Sacramento. The victory gives Miami a sweep of the season series with the Hornets (20-28).
“We say … either you win or you learn,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And the other night, it was a tough lesson, but we really wanted to make amends for how we finish games defensively. We had to really dig to get it back. But, at the end of the day, you could just feel our defensive intensity step up and really take pride on our home court and trying to win the game on that side of the court. And to hold them to 13 points after they have a 30-point quarter that put us in a hole, I don’t care about anything, their record or anything. That is a tough team to hold to 13 points.”
Richardson led the Heat with 19 points and Ellington added 16. Ellington was 4-of-11 on 3 pointers which gives him 150 for the season, a personal single-season high breaking the 148 he made last year, his first with the Heat.
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 30.
Defense steps up: Spoelstra praised the fourth-quarter defense that held the Hornets to 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting, including 2-of-11 on threes, and allowed the Heat to overcome a deficit that reached 15 points in the third quarter. Spoelstra had Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic on the bench down the stretch and went with Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo. Winslow was especially effective, playing point guard on defense and guarding Walker for much of the quarter and harassing him into a 1-of-8 quarter after starting 7-of-14.
Second helping: The Heat’s starters struggled for much of Thursday’s loss to the Kings and not much changed Saturday. And for the second consecutive game, the second unit provided a spark. With four substitutes in the game, the Heat turned a 21-17 deficit into a 43-34 lead. Kelly Olynyk, Ellington and Adebayo led the charge, combining for 22 first-half points. The starters were even worse to start the second half, being outscored 20-4 in the first seven minutes.
“They bring a lot of energy,” Dragic said about the second unit. “Basically they finished -we finished – the game with kind of a strong unit especially with Justise at the (point guard). Coach did an amazing job sprinkling blitzes, especially the end of the third quarter, fourth quarter. I think that gave us the win. They played hard.”
Another disastrous third quarter: The Heat led 54-48 at halftime and scored the first basket of the third quarter before the Hornets went on a 27-4 run to take a 15-point lead. The Heat missed 14 of 16 shots and were outrebounded 15-7 during that span. The Heat got back into the game by ending the quarter on a 9-1 run and then outscored the Hornets 24-13 in the fourth quarter.
“I think we really just got consumed with the result of what happened on the offensive end,” Spoelstra said. “We missed some open shots and you could see it, guys, their minds just couldn’t get past that to be able to compete on the other end, to show some grit, to hold the fort. I thought the way we shot, and we had some open shots that we missed, but I thought they could have taken maybe a four- or five-point lead, not a 12-point lead, a 15-point lead.”
Tyler Johnson gives Heat a scare: Tyler Johnson returned to the starting lineup after missing five games with a sprained left ankle and appeared to reinjure the ankle late in the first half when he limped off the court. Trainer Jay Sabol took a look and after a few minutes Johnson returned to the game. Johnson said hit foot was stepped on the pain quickly subsided. Johnson, who suffered the injury Jan. 15 in Chicago, scored eight points on 3-of-7 shooting in 21 minutes. He has started 13 games and settled into the shooting guard spot after Dion Waiters’ season ended because of an ankle injury.
“It was driving me crazy just sitting around, watching,” Johnson said. “But it felt good and I was happy to just be out there and able to contribute.
On the road again: The Heat hit the road for their lone remaining trip of more than three games this season and one that includes their second look at Cleveland. Miami starts in Dallas on Monday and travels to Cleveland for a Wednesday game before ending with a back-to-back Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia and Detroit. Miami lost in Cleveland in November but since has closed in on the Cavs for the No. 3 seed in the East. The other game of interest is Miami’s first game of the season against the up-and-coming 76ers.