Warriors 107 - HEAT 114 Recap

MIAMI, January 1 – With their 114-107 victory over the Golden State Warriors, the Miami HEAT put themselves into a tie with the Boston Celtics for first place in the Eastern Conference.

A remarkable feat, given their 9-8 record early in the season, but the manner in which it was ultimately accomplished was hardly pleasing for Erik Spoelstra. That manner being overcoming the HEAT’s worst defensive half in over a month.

“I hope that malaise that we were in in the first half was an aberration,” Spoelstra said.

Through two quarters, the HEAT gave up 72 points in a mere 46 possessions, the Warriors shooting 63.6 percent from the field and 10-of-16 beyond the three-point line. The law of averages was sure to play out, and the normalization of those numbers in the second half would likely be worth eight to ten points of the HEAT’s 14-point deficit alone, but what was worrisome wasn’t just Golden State’s shooting.

It was how easy it was for the Warriors to execute their offense and earn relatively easy looks as the HEAT slogged through defensive rotations that, during their 15-1 December, were routine.

So, at halftime, Spoelstra issued a reminder of what he expects of the players, and what the players should expect of one another.

“We talked about what we wanted to hold each other accountable to, and that’s our championship standards,” Spoelstra said. “What we did in the first half was simply not good enough. You’re building bad habits by playing at that level and really not competing, defensively.

“Those aren’t the habits that we want to build and that’s not how we wanted to start 2011. We talked about being humble and being hungry, having a sense of urgency like we did after the Dallas game (which launched a 12-game winning streak).”

And perhaps even more indicative of this team’s maturity is that there was no hoopla involved. Just a collective deep breath followed by a reassessment of the situation at hand.

“Everybody was pretty calm,” Chris Bosh said. “There was no reason to get erratic or lose our cool. We know that we played a sub par first half, especially on the defensive end. We knew we had to pick it up and change that.”

As the third quarter began, they knew they would.

“I knew my team. We knew we were going to make a run,” Dwyane Wade said.

They did, and right away, opening the third on a 15-3 run to get within two through the first six minutes. Where the Warriors had spent an entire half with time to spare on the perimeter, they were now rushed and uncomfortable, forced into long jumpers that missed badly. And off every miss, the reenergized HEAT pushed, creating momentum even as they turned the ball over or missed a dunk. What’s important wasn’t the resulting scoring opportunities, but the defense that created them.

After consecutive 36-point quarters, the Warriors scored 12 in the third, shooting 25 percent with eight turnovers.

And after they began the fourth with an 8-0 run, the game was firmly in Miami’s grasp. The Warriors, to their credit, didn’t fold, with Dorell Wright maintaining his first-half pace to score 30. But the HEAT weren’t losing focus again.

“We never expected like, ‘OK, we’re going to win the game now its over,’” Bosh said. “We knew we had to keep grinding them down.”

Once they were finished, they were atop the Eastern Conference, with a fitting reminder that one ragged half of basketball is all it takes to keep them from getting where they want to go.