Five takeaways: Heat defense keeps game close, but not enough in 105-99 loss to Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, center, is fouled by Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 23, 2018. Miami forward James Johnson is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Heat’s defense kept them in the game through the first three quarters, but lost them the game in the fourth.

After limiting the Thunder to 34.4 percent shooting over the first three quarters to take a two-point lead into the fourth, Oklahoma City (44-30) gained control in the final period to earn a 105-99 victory over Miami (39-34) on Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder outscored the Heat 41-33 and made 15-of-23 shots (65.2 percent) in the fourth on their way to the win.

All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook played a big role in Oklahoma City’s late push with 17 of his game-high 29 points coming in the fourth.

“I felt the game was played probably a little bit more on our terms than theirs,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “but Westbrook made big plays down the stretch and they were able to overcome what we were doing.”

Miami’s offense struggled for most of the night, finishing with a shooting percentage of 39.1. But 13-of-30 shooting on 3-pointers helped negate some of those offensive issues.

James Johnson led the Heat with a team-high 23 points and Goran Dragic contributed 20.

Miami managed to limit Oklahoma City’s Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to a combined 18 points on 5-of-24 shooting. But the Heat didn’t have an answer for Westbrook, who finished with 13 rebounds and eight assists to go with his 29 points.

It was a night that the Heat missed center Hassan Whiteside, who missed his seventh consecutive game with a left hip flexor strain. The Thunder ended the night with a 46-34 scoring edge in the paint and outrebounded the Heat 51-41 as Oklahoma City center Steven Adams recorded 24 points and 12 rebounds.

The Heat shot just 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) from inside the paint.

“We’re never going to use excuses of who we got, who’s ready to play, who’s healthy,” Dragic said. “We are going to go with that guy. What would happen if Hassan would play or somebody else, we don’t have control over that. Of course we would love to have him but it is what it is. We need to battle through those injuries and try to survive.”

The Heat now travel to Indianapolis for a Sunday game against the Pacers to complete the quick two-game trip. With seventh-seeded Miami and fifth-seeded Indiana battling for playoff positioning, the contest will have plenty of stakes attached to it.

Here are our five takeaways …

Heat defense was good, but offense wasn’t this time: It was quite the change from the previous two games, when Miami combined to score 268 points on 55.2 percent shooting. The offensive numbers weren’t so great Friday, as the Thunder limited the Heat to 39.1 percent shooting. But Miami’s defense was good as usual, holding Oklahoma City to 34.4 percent shooting over the first three quarters before the Thunder erupted for 41 points in the fourth. While Miami has welcomed the recent offensive success, that won’t be there every night. With the Heat ranked 19th out of 30 teams in offensive rating, it’s still the defense (ranked 10th in defensive rating) that will carry them to wins on most nights.  It just wasn’t enough Friday.

“They’re a good defensive team. They’re a veteran team,” Wayne Ellington said of the Thunder. “They did a good job switching, taking away some of our actions. But that game was in our wheelhouse. Those are the type of games that we like, those type of scoring games and you have to dig it out and grind it out. We just came up a little short.”

Dwyane Wade is back: As usual, Dwyane Wade played off the bench and entered with 4:02 remaining in first quarter. He made his first shot attempt, a 21-foot pull-up jumper. Wade finished with seven points on 3-of-9 shooting, one rebound and two assists in 20 minutes, and became the 31st player in NBA history to score 22,000 points. The main thing, though, is that Wade is back after missing the past five games with a strained left hamstring, and that’s very good news for the Heat down the stretch in a fight for playoff positioning.

“It feels OK. These guys really set a great rhythm,  I’m just trying to get back out there in the flow,” Wade said of his first game back from injury. “A very tough team to come back versus. They’re switching a lot of things all around, a lot of athleticism. But I think I was OK, physically.”

Not enough to compete with West’s best: After Friday’s loss, the Heat are now 0-9 against the top five teams in the Western Conference this season — 0-2 against No. 1 Houston, 0-2 against No. 2 Golden State, 0-2 against No. 3 Portland, 0-1 against No. 4 Oklahoma City and 0-2 against No. 5 New Orleans. This isn’t surprising, considering those are some of the top teams in the NBA. But when you look at the Heat’s 7-7 record against the top five teams in the Eastern Conference, the discrepancy is hard to explain other than the West’s best is better than the East’s best.

A Heat offense that’s setting team records: Just two nights after setting a new team record for 3-pointers attempted in a single season, the Heat set the team record for threes made Friday. Miami entered the game just four made 3-pointers away from surpassing the team’s single-season record of 808, which was set last season. The Heat cleared that with ease, making 13 long-range shots in Oklahoma City. In addition, Ellington passed Tim Hardaway on Friday for second place on the team’s all-time list for threes made in a single season. After making four against the Thunder, Ellington has now connected on 205 3-pointers. Damon Jones (225 made threes in 2004-05) is the only player ahead of Ellington on the list, but he will have a chance to pass him too with nine regular-season games remaining.

“It’s an amazing individual accomplishment,” Ellington said of passing Hardaway. “Like I keep saying, I’m just appreciative, man, of everything. Just being there in the same sentence in that category. I’m appreciative of my teammates and my coaches. Spo has been unbelievable with the way he believes in me and that’s all you can ask for as a shooter like me, for your head coach to have that type of confidence in you.”

Heat stay at No. 7 in East: Even after the loss, the Heat remained in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. But with the Bucks winning Friday, Miami now holds just a one-half game lead on the No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat are also 1.5 games behind the No. 6 Washington Wizards, and three games behind the No. 5 Indiana Pacers and No. 4 Philadelphia 76ers. At this point, it’s all about playoff positioning for Miami. With the Heat holding a 6.5 game lead over the ninth-place Pistons and nine regular-games remaining, Miami will be one of the East’s eight playoff teams barring an epic collapse.

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