Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 109-106 comeback win over the Brooklyn Nets (10-10) on Sunday at Barclays Center ...
1. The Heat (14-5) finally played a close game, and rallied for the win.
Entering Sunday, Miami had played in an NBA-low two “clutch” games this season (Oct. 26 vs. Bucks and Oct. 27 vs. Timberwolves), which is defined as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. To put that into perspective, the Heat played 98 “clutch” games over the previous two seasons.
Well, the Heat played its third clutch game of the season on Sunday, and won on the road. Miami is 2-1 in “clutch” games and 6-5 on the road this season.
Not only was it a “clutch” game, but Sunday’s contest also included 24 lead changes and 12 ties.
“We’ve been talking about it for 48 hours that we need to take a stand, particularly on the road and find a game that we have to grind,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Even if it’s ugly, show the mental toughness.”
The Heat did exactly that.
Trailing by seven with 1:45 to play, the Heat scored the final 10 points of the game to rally for the win. Most of those points came from from the free-throw line, with the Heat going 8 of 9 from the foul line during this stretch.
Meanwhile, the Nets missed their final five shots of the game behind stellar defense from Heat center Bam Adebayo and wing Jimmy Butler.
“I like this win, because, one, it’s on the road,” Butler said. “But I think we finally showed ourselves what we’re capable of when we guard. When we don’t make shots the way that we normally make shots, there’s still a way to win, and we have to find that way to win. Tonight was a prime example of it.”
For most of “clutch” time, Spoelstra used a lineup of Justise Winslow, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic, Butler and Adebayo.
Dragic kicked off the 10-0 run to close the game with an and-one layup. Dragic finished with a team-high 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting and six assists.
Another important number for the Heat? Miami committed a season-low nine turnovers in Sunday’s win.
2. Butler continues to draw a lot of free throws and make most of them. That proved to be very important late in Sunday’s game.
The Heat wing entered Sunday averaging 8.5 free-throw attempts per game, which is the fourth-most in the NBA behind only Houston’s James Harden (14.4), Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (11.1) and Dallas’ Luka Doncic (9.8).
That trend continued Sunday, with Butler scoring 20 points with the help of 9-of-10 shooting on free throws. He took over late in the game when the Heat really needed him, as he was able to consistently draw contact to go 5 of 6 on free throws during the 10-0 game-deciding run.
“I just continually play in the way that I take what the game gives me,” Butler said. “I know whenever the fourth quarter rolls around, it may be my time to take some good shots, some bad shots, get to the line. But I think that my teammates, my coaches, the organization, they have a lot of trust in me to be able to do that.”
Butler’s most efficient offense continues to come from the foul line, as he was 5 of 17 from the field and 1 of 5 on threes Sunday. He’s shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from behind the three-point line this season.
Butler, who has made 83.6 percent of his free throws over his NBA career, is shooting 86.8 percent from the foul line this season. He has made 63 of his last 68 free throws.
As a team, the Heat was 23 of 28 on free throws Sunday. That’s quite the improvement from last season, when the Heat finished as the league’s worst free-throw shooting team at 69.5 percent.
“He read the situation down the stretch,” Spoelstra said of Butler. “We didn’t have anything else going for us, and that’s why you want All-Star players, great players that can manufacture something against very good defenses and do it under duress and context of score and time.”
3. The Nets played off of Adebayo, which is a coverage he will have to continue to adjust to.
The 76ers were really the first team to try this type of defense against the Heat, daring Adebayo to shoot and clogging the paint to disrupt Miami’s cutters. It worked, as the Heat scored 86 points on 40 percent shooting in a blowout loss to the 76ers on Nov. 23. Adebayo finished with zero assists and three turnovers in that game.
With the Nets sagging off of Adebayo every time he touched the ball Sunday, he finished with one assist and a team-high four turnovers. But the Heat found a way to win this time despite shooting 38.9 percent.
Adebayo is second among centers in assists this season with 4.4 per game. But he has a total of just one assist in those two games.
Whether it’s using a more aggressive approach and taking the open mid-range jumper or dribbling into a paint shot or just getting off the ball, Adebayo is now faced with trying to figure out how to solve this coverage. Other opponents will surely try it because it’s worked so far.
Adebayo did manage to finish Sunday’s victory with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting and 16 rebounds, though. He was also his usual dominant self on defense, switching on to Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie late in the game and stopping him.
“It’s a great luxury. Bam is perhaps our best defender,” Winslow said of Adebayo’s ability to defend multiple positions. “He’s making a case for All-Defensive team, as he should be. I think people will start realizing that maybe you’ll want your perimeter defender on you rather than Bam.”
Dinwiddie was still impressive Sunday, finishing with a game-high 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting.
4. Derrick Jones Jr. played Sunday for the first time since Nov. 7.
After missing 10 consecutive games with a strained left hip, the Heat’s high-flying forward made his return in Sunday’s win over the Nets. Jones didn’t play much, coming on the court for just 10 seconds to end the first quarter.
The question now becomes, can Jones stay healthy? He has already missed 14 of the Heat’s 19 games this season because of two different injuries — four due to a strained left groin and another 10 because of the hip issue.
Also, where does Jones fit into the Heat’s rotation? On Sunday, two-way contract forward Chris Silva played ahead of Jones and logged seven minutes.
5. Dion Waiters was inactive in his first game back with the Heat after serving his 10-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
In the wake of Waiters’ suspension ending late Friday night, the 27-year-old guard practiced with the team on Saturday and accompanied the Heat on its three-game road trip that began Sunday. But Waiters was not on the active roster against the Nets, as he was on the Heat’s inactive list that also included guard Daryl Macon and forward KZ Okpala.
This isn’t a huge surprise, considering Waiters was away from the team for three weeks as he served his 10-game suspension that began in a Nov. 8 loss to the Lakers. Plus, the Heat’s rotation looks to be set for now, with rookie guards Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn among those ahead of Waiters on the depth chart.
But Waiters, who has yet to play this season, was on the team bench Sunday. It marked the first time this regular season that Waiters has been on the Heat’s bench for a game.
Why would Waiters travel with the Heat on a trip that includes three games in four nights, leaving little time for practice, if he’s not going to play? The Heat continues the trip Tuesday against the Raptors.
“This is all about just getting back with the team and around us,” Spoelstra said. “This is our first time this year where we’ll have everybody, including the staff. We haven’t even had the whole staff here with us on any of the road trips, at least since training camp. It’s a good step.”
Okpala, who has missed the past 15 games with a strained left Achilles, also traveled with the Heat on the trip and is nearing a return. The Heat’s plan is to send the rookie to its G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, when he’s healthy to get him game experience.
Macon, who is on a two-way contract, was on his way to join the Heat in New York on Sunday. He’s averaging 23.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and seven assists in seven games with the Skyforce.