MIAMI — The night will be remembered for Dwyane Wade’s return.
But it was defense that pushed the Heat to a 91-85 win over the Bucks on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The victory snapped Miami’s five-game losing streak, as the Heat (30-26) held the Bucks (30-24) to 42.1 percent shooting and forced them into 19 turnovers.
Miami overcame its own inefficient offensive performance that included 36.4 percent shooting.
It’s a night that won’t be forgotten any time soon, as Wade played his first game in a Heat uniform since leaving the organization in free agency in the summer of 2016. Miami acquired Wade from the Cavaliers in a trade Thursday.
“What a terrific day,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The last 24 hours and then to culminate in a win like this. After five straight losses, it’s what our organization needed for the moment. Obviously it was special to have Dwyane back in uniform, back on our side in front of the home fans. It felt exactly the way it should. It felt normal. It felt like home. It felt like family. All the things you came to expect with Dwyane.”
Wade, who is considered the greatest player in franchise history, finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 22 minutes in a bench role. His biggest play of the night came when he blocked an Eric Bledsoe layup with 31.7 seconds to play to preserve a 85-81 lead.
“Just making a play,” Wade said of the block. “It was a turnover and you got to get back and I got a chance to time it, and it felt like old times. I don’t jump as high as I used to so I got to have great timing, and I’ve always had that. I was able to make a good block and that’s what it’s all about, everybody making winning plays. The coaching staff preaches that.”
The Heat took control of the game with a dominant third quarter, winning the period 30-8 to turn a 46-42 halftime deficit into a 72-56 lead entering the fourth. Defense, again, was the catalyst as the Bucks shot 23.5 percent (4-of-17) in the quarter.
Tyler Johnson led Miami with a team-high 19 points and Josh Richardson helped out with 16. Hassan Whiteside contributed 12 points and 16 rebounds to help the Heat win the rebounding battle 51-37.
Milwaukee star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 23 points on 8-of-21 shooting, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Luke Babbitt, who was acquired in a trade from the Hawks on Thursday, did not play. The Heat were without Kelly Olynyk (strained left shoulder), Dion Waiters (left ankle surgery) and Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery).
The Heat swept their season series with the Bucks, 3-0.
Here are our five takeaways …
D-Wade’s return: Dwyane Wade didn’t start the game, but he entered with 5:19 remaining in the first quarter to a standing ovation from the crowd, as expected. His first and only points came on a 3-pointer with 1:30 remaining in the first period. Wade finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 22 minutes in a bench role. The nerves and excitement looked to affect him early, as the 12-time All-Star committed two fouls and three turnovers in the first quarter. Even with an underwhelming stat line, Wade still found a way to leave his mark on the game with a huge block with 31.7 seconds to play to preserve a four-point lead. We got a glimpse of what Wade’s role will be, as he was used as the backup point guard when starter Goran Dragic was on the bench. Wade arrived to the Heat averaging 11.2 points on 45.5 percent shooting, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 46 games with the Cavaliers this season.
“It was a little emotion,” Wade said. “For me I was just trying to focus on trying to relearn everything on the fly, the offense, the defense. You try not to make too many mistakes. I tried to learn my new teammates. I was trying to focus on that more so than anything. I definitely feel like there are a few things I have to work on the next few days before we play again.”
Bad offense, great defense: This wasn’t the Heat’s best offensive performance, but it was enough for the victory. Miami was inefficient with 91 points on 36.4 percent shooting, and leading scorer Goran Dragic struggled with six points on 1-of-11 shooting. The Heat also committed 16 turnovers. This is nothing new, as Miami entered ranked 24th out of 30 teams in offensive rating. But the Heat’s defense made up for it, limiting the Bucks to 42.1 percent shooting. This is nothing new for the Heat either, as they entered ranked eighth in defensive rating.
A third quarter to remember: How did the Heat win the game? Just take a look at the third quarter. Miami outscored Milwaukee 30-8 in the period. The Heat limited the Bucks to 23.5 percent (4-of-17) shooting in the quarter. And Miami did it with physical play, earning a 16-7 rebounding edge and outscoring Milwaukee 14-6 in the paint in the period. Centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo combined for 14 points and seven rebounds in the third. This was an important 12 minutes for the Heat. Miami was outscored 77-61 over the other 36 minutes of the game.
“Mostly defensively,” Spoelstra said what went right for the Heat in the third quarter. “Just getting a lot of bodies back in the paint. The unit that was out there was just really inspiring each other. How do you not get inspired by Bam Adebayo when he’s flying around, making plays all over the place, guarding one through five. That youthful experience inspired all the rest of the guys. JJ got involved. Tyler got involved. It’s great to see. And that has to be the identity. We keep on saying it. We’re a lunchpail, hard hat team. That’s who we are.”
Welcome back, Tyler: The Heat didn’t just welcome back Wade, they also welcomed back Tyler Johnson. The 25-year-old broke out of a slump with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists. Miami outscored Milwaukee by 20 points with Johnson on the court. It’s been a struggle for Johnson ever since he returned from an ankle injury on Jan. 27. He entered averaging 7.7 points on 32.2 percent shooting from the field and 31.4 percent shooting from 3-point range in seven games since coming back. Friday’s performance was a step in the right direction for a player the Heat are going to need down the stretch.
“Tyler will always break out of [his slump],” Spoelstra said of Johnson. “We were never concerned about it. He’s going to put in time. He’s pure. He wants to do right for the team. He’s always feeling like he’s letting guys down when he doesn’t play well. That’s how you wish everybody acted all season long and wore that competitiveness. You want all the guys to wear that competitiveness on their sleeves all the time. I’m sure he feels good about it, but I wasn’t concerned.”
Standings watch: After dropping from fourth to seventh place in the Eastern Conference over the past week due to a five-game losing streak, the Heat finally made a move in the right direction in the standings. With Friday’s win, Miami stayed at No. 7. But they pulled to within one game of the No. 5 Bucks and No. 6 Pacers. The Heat are one game ahead of the No. 8 76ers and two games ahead of the No. 9 Pistons. Miami is also just 1.5 games behind No. 4 Washington.