HEAT 95 - Wizards 94 Recap

December 18 – “We played a horrible basketball game.”

Not the first thing you expect to hear from coach Erik Spoelstra after the Miami HEAT won their twelfth game in a row, albeit by one, 95-94, over the 6-19 Washington Wizards. A game they had no business winning, but still took care of just enough business to do so.

“In order to have streaks like this, you have to have games like this. Games that you weren’t even supposed to win,” LeBron James said.

“We played to the very end. We do whatever it takes to win basketball games.”

But Spoelstra’s feelings were apt nonetheless.

A day after an impressive dismantling of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the HEAT, playing their sixth game in the span of nine nights, were flat footed and sloppy. With the occasional flash of their usual level of play, the HEAT couldn’t get out of their own way, as missed rotations allowed the Wizards into the paint and 10 first half turnovers prevented any semblance of offensive rhythm – certainly not aided by Miami’s willingness to shoot from the perimeter with the Wizards packing the paint off any dribble.

All of which led to 43 percent shooting, 17 turnovers and just barely a point per possession for Miami. Couple with Nick Young’s 30 points on 23 shots and Kirk Hinrich’s 12 assists, this game had all the makings to fulfill the classic trap-game scenario.

And yet the HEAT still found a way to win in, literally, the final minute, which is where we’ll go to now as, given the circumstances, the other 47 minutes are hardly indicative of Miami’s long-term play. At least until you consider that with most things, including themselves, going against them, the HEAT were never down by more than 10.

“We stayed tough enough to at least stay within striking distance,” Spoelstra said.

LeBron James’ gambling steal and dunk with 1:38 to play put the HEAT down three, but a badly missed three from Dwyane Wade on the following possession, and a Josh Howard push-shot in the lane (created off Hinrich’s penetration), had them down five with 32.6 seconds left.

Now, at this point, Chris Bosh had seven turnovers to go with just 15 points. Things were clearly not going his way. So, Spoelstra forced the issue.

The play drawn up out of the timeout was not only for Bosh, but a pick-and-pop play to get Bosh a three just right of the top of the key.

All net.

With 27.7 left, the HEAT barely had time left to get a stop, grab the rebound and call timeout, so they opted to foul. This put Howard at the line, where he went 1-of-2. The only problem being, the HEAT forgot to box out, and Howard grabbed his own miss.

Miami fouled to put him back at the line, and Howard made 1-of-2 again. The HEAT found themselves down four with 18.4 to play, and one timeout remaining.

So what did Spoelstra do? Go right back to Bosh.

Catching the ball in almost the exact same spot out of a timeout, this time Bosh up-faked Andray Blatche behind the arc and drew the foul. He went 2-of-3 from the line, and immediately after the final make, Wade got Young off-balance as he tried to catch the inbounds, creating a steal for James Jones.

For his first two points of the game, Jones went 2-for-2 at the line to tie it up with 13.6 to go.

The HEAT found some good fortune when Hinrich missed 1-of-2 at the line – the third consecutive Wizards player to do so – and then again when Washington chose to double James on the inbounds, leaving Wade open to receive the pass near mid-court. Wade then drove straight down the middle, drawing a foul on Blatche right in front of the rim.

Two free throws later, and a stop of Hinrich by Bosh on the other end, and Wade was throwing the ball in the air as the HEAT pulled out the improbably win, one they were they were lucky to earn. But at the same time, they were good enough to create their own luck.

“You have to win some of these games where you play poorly. You have to find a way, somehow some way,” Spoelstra said. “These are games that great teams find a way to win, when it’s not always going well.”