MIAMI — It took an overtime period on the final night of the regular season, but the Heat finally know their first-round playoff opponent.
Miami (44-38) earned a 116-109 comeback win over Toronto (59-23) on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena to finish the season as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat will face the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers to open the playoffs, with the date and time of Game 1 of the seven-game series still to be determined.
“Is there any other way but the hard way with this group?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s just absolutely fitting that this would come down to an overtime game for us to secure the sixth spot. It was a heck of a regular season and now we’re on to a second act.”
The Bucks and the Wizards both lost Wednesday, which put Milwaukee in the seventh seed and Washington in the eighth seed.
It looked bleak for the Heat for most of the night, as they trailed the Raptors 74-63 with 3:09 to play in the third quarter. But Miami rallied behind six second-half threes from Wayne Ellington.
Ellington finished with a career-high 32 points and tied a career-high with eight made 3-pointers. In the process of turning in one of the best performances of his NBA life, he also set a new team record for threes made by an individual in a season.
Kyle Lowry led Toronto, which will enter the playoffs as the East’s top seed, with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting.
Here are our five takeaways …
Heat to face 76ers in first round: The 76ers it is. Miami will face Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. This is a series that comes with plenty of storylines. The Process vs. Culture. The center matchup between Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and Philadephia’s Joel Embiid. Will Embiid be ready for the start of the playoffs after missing the final eight games of the regular season with an orbital bone fracture? And if the season series between these two teams is any indication, it’s going to be a close one full of drama. The Heat and 76ers split the season series 2-2. Every game was decided by single digits, including a one-point Miami win and a two-point Philadelphia win. Buckle up, everybody.
“If we play the game we know we can play, it will be a helluva series,” Dwyane Wade said. “They obviously are playing phenomenal basketball with a lot of confidence and we have to go to their home court to start this thing off. But we think its going to be a great series between teams that really play hard all the way through and through. It’s going to be the little things that are going to win the series for either team. But we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
A comeback the Heat needed: Entering the playoffs on a three-game losing skid would not have been ideal. But good thing for the Heat, they won’t be in that position. Miami snapped its two-game losing streak with a comeback win over Toronto. After the Raptors pulled ahead 74-63 with 3:09 to play in the third quarter, Miami outscored Toronto 53-35 the rest of the way to rally. You can thank Ellington for that, as he made six threes in the second half and overtime. With the victory, the Heat enter the playoffs with some momentum. That’s definitely better than ending the regular season with three straight losses.
“It shows us we can play with anybody,” Josh Richardson said of the Heat’s win over Toronto. “I’m very confident in my team in a seven-game series against any team. I think that’s a big win going forward.”
Dragic’s injury is worth watching: Goran Dragic and the Heat may be trying to downplay his knee injury, but it’s something worth watching as the Heat enter the playoffs. Dragic sat out the regular-season finale against Toronto with a sore right knee. When asked about the injury before the game, Dragic said: “No big stories here.” But Dragic’s knee has been bothering him for the last month, battling tendinitis and a knee bruise. Dragic will play through any pain he feels in the playoffs, so don’t worry about that. But will Dragic be his usual self? That’s the question we can’t answer yet. The good news is that Dragic has played well over the past month despite the knee issues, averaging 18.1 points on 49.2 percent shooting in 13 games since March 11. And there are not back-to-backs in the playoffs. That helps, too.
Ellington makes Heat history: Wayne Ellington needed seven 3-pointers on the final night of the regular season to make Heat history. It seemed unlikely, but he did it. Ellington tied a career-high with eight made threes Wednesday to set a new team record for threes made by an individual in a season. He surpassed the franchise mark of 225 set by Damon Jones in 2004-05. Ellington ended the regular-season with a career-high 227 made threes. This was a historic season for Ellington. He also established an NBA record for 3-pointers made off the bench in a single season, breaking Eric Gordon’s mark of 206 set last year with the Rockets. The Heat are now 20-8 this season when he makes at least four 3-pointers in a game.
“The guys are so happy for him,” Spoelstra said of Ellington. “We all knew that he needed seven and I really think that’s the way this group is wired and it wasn’t anything that we talked about. But we were all were trying to get him going and he just caught fire. It’s just beautiful to see.”
Raptors really wanted that 60th win: Toronto didn’t have much to play for on the final night of the regular season. The Raptors had already clinched the top spot in the East and the second-best record in the NBA. Really, the only thing Toronto had to play for Wednesday was its 60th victory of the season. That accomplishment would have been especially special considering the Raptors finished 22-60 in 2010-11. Toronto didn’t get it, but it definitely tried. The Raptors played their normal rotation the entire way, even in overtime. Toronto’s All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry played 38 minutes each.
“We were talking about it at halftime. They didn’t have much to play for but they’re playing for something for sure,” Ellington said of Toronto playing its starters for the entire game. “We got their best shot. Like I said, it couldn’t be any more sweeter (against) the No. 1 team in the East.”