MIAMI – Maybe there is an advantage for the Miami Heat having played in so many close games – such as Monday’s thrilling 149-141 overtime victory over the Nuggets – and maybe those experiences are starting to make a difference.
The Heat have been in 48 clutch game situations this season – defined by the NBA as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter – three more than the closest team, and Miami is 27-21 in those situations, one more win than the Pelicans ( 26-17) for the most in the league. The Heat’s last three games have come down to final shots and after a heartbreaking overtime at Sacramento on Wednesday, the Heat have survived two in a row.
“I think being in all those close games, nobody on this team is scared of the moment,” said Kelly Olynyk, who had 30 points off the bench on Monday. “Everybody has been in enough now we know what to expect from ourselves and each other, we’re battle tested that way.”
More than any team in the league.
The Heat were in the same situation in L.A. against the Lakers on Friday as they were in Sacramento. But after De’Aaron Fox got off a high percentage shot in the lane to send the Kings game into overtime – where Sacramento took over – the Heat’s defense did not allow the Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas to do the same thing two nights later. Thomas had to settle for a step back 14-footer over the outstretched arms of Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo and the shot did not have a chance, allowing Miami to escape with a one-point win.
Adebayo referenced the Sacramento game, when he was on the floor for Fox’s shot and did not aggressively help out as he did against Thomas.
Monday was different. Twice the Heat found themselves with chances to win, at the end of regulation and the end of the first overtime but neither Josh Richardson nor James Johnson could score on contested shots at the buzzer.
But Miami kept coming and they just wore down Denver in the second overtime, thanks mostly to Johnson, who had 10 of his team-high 31 points in the second OT and 18 in both OTs combined.
“I guess we’ve just been in more of these than most teams and we felt that we were getting tougher and building some resilience in these situations and you’re just waiting for the time when you could reap some benefits for that experience and some of the painful things that we’ve gone through,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And you saw a little of that tonight.”
The Heat took early control of both extra periods, scoring the first four points in the first OT and the first five of the second.
But after allowing the Nuggets to quickly get back into it in the first OT and even take the lead before the game was tied again at the end of the first five minutes, Miami kept up the pressure in the second OT and scored 11 of the first 14 points to open a nine-point lead with less than two minutes to play.
“In one game to the next. … we saw great improvement just in our overall effort, disposition going down the stretch, making winning plays. Plays that were there to be made,” Spoelstra said. “The more you’re in those situations the more comfortable you get.”
The Heat (38-33) are virtually assured a spot in the playoffs. Miami is seventh, one/half game ahead of No. 8 Milwaukee and 6.5 games in front of No. 8 Detroit. The Heat have 11 games remaining.
The playoffs typically are even tighter, although with 68 percent of Miami’s game being within five points in the last five minutes, how much tighter than they become?
And Miami hopes to use every one of those 48 games to their advantage in the postseason.
“I’ve never experienced this kind of season in my life,” Goran Dragic said. “But it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because you know in the playoffs, it’s a lot of close games so we’ve already been in this position so many times. You can feel, it’s like natural. You’re calm and you can win those games.”