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5 Thoughts from Miami’s Win Over Houston

El Nuevo Herald/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was Miami Heat ineptitude; it was Houston Rocket brilliance. It was the epoch of disappointment in the first half; it was the epoch of incredulity in the second half when Houston blew a 21-point lead in 12 minutes.  It was the season of Light for a suddenly awakened Hassan Whiteside; it was the season of continued Darkness for James Harden who still can’t shoot…..and I am now done spoofing A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

The Heat-Rockets game was clearly a tale of two halves. In the first, Houston drained three after three after God-forbidden three. Oh, and Miami’s defense was flat-out awful, so that that certainly didn’t help:

Miami’s offense didn’t look much better. Not only did it look disjointed, it missed every three it took in the first half, with the Rockets taking full advantage of Miami’s shooting woes by crowding the paint:

With the Heat looking lost on both ends of the court and facing a 19-point deficit at the half, I was ready to throw in the white flag and focus on the upcoming Atlanta game:

duncan 1

But boy, did things change in the second half.

Houston stopped raining in threes; in fact, they didn’t make a single one in the second half. Heck, it barely scored at all in the second half, with Miami outscoring them 65-26 over the final 24 minutes, and ending the game on a 29-6 run.

Miami’s defense suddenly started swarming, like here:

Chris Bosh, who was nonexistent in the first half, started getting loose….and awfully animated:

The same Heat team that was down 19 at the half went down 21 to start the third, and committed a shot-clock violation on their first possession of it, somehow turned a 21-point deficit into a 20-point lead. It was unbelievable, exhausting, gut-wrenching, and ultimately too much for me to deal with in only the third game of the year.

Pray for my sanity this year.

Interestingly, a tale of two halves ended up being a tale of two tweets:

duncan 2

I had to narrow down all of the interesting developments from last night’s game to my Fave Five if you will, which was difficult, but let’s get to it.

1. GORAN DRAGIC WAS AN ADVENTURE

As Dragic looked to get further acclimated with the Heat starting lineup, what was noticeable from the beginning of the game was an increase of aggression. He attacked the basket and really looked to make things happen:

Dragic still didn’t have a huge impact in the box score, only finishing with eight points (on 3-7 shooting) and six assists. However, seeing him looking to push the pace and attack off pick-and-rolls was a nice sign.

Defense, however, was another story. A sad one, even.

To be fair, it’s hard for anyone to stay in front of Ty Lawson, but it doesn’t negate the fact that Lawson was able to blow by him on quite a few occasions. Houston did a good job of screening Dragic and forcing switches, leaving Dragic on an island against Strugglin’ James Harden. That….did not go great:

And you KNOW you’re not having a good night when PATRICK BEVERLEY makes you fall on a crossover — and dunks it for good measure:

https://youtu.be/W1R-YZCA08I

Between struggling to stay in front of Lawson, the Beverley highlight, and scrambling on rotations to cover for others (especially in the first half), Dragic had a rough night defensively. Finishing the game as a minus-six wasn’t necessarily all on him, but his defense was part of the reason the Heat were outscored overall while he was on the court.

Dragic will be facing Jeff Teague and probably a little bit of Dennis Schroder in the next game, so things won’t necessarily get easier for him. Hopefully, he has a better outing next game; actually staying on his feet may help.

2. TYLER JOHNSON PROVED (ONCE AGAIN) THAT HE DESERVES PLAYING TIME

Johnson has been making Heat guards expendable since Miami signed him last season. He played well towards the end up the year and in Summer League play, attacking the basket and assaulting the rim like it disrespected his mother which would probably make him an honorary Morris twin. His ability to attack the basket also helps draw attention in pick-and-roll:

Aside from his daredevil style of attacking the basket, what makes Johnson so fun is that he’s everywhere. He competes on every defensive possession, plays the lanes, crowds his man, and he doesn’t mind mixing it up in the paint or fighting for rebounds:

6’2 Tyler Johnson finished the game with three offensive rebounds — eight overall — in addition to 11 points, three assists, one steal, one block and finishing the game a plus-25 in only 21 minutes.

He. Makes. Things. Happen.

Play that man, Spo. Do it for the people.

3. MIAMI’S ROSTER FLEXIBILITY WAS ON DISPLAY

Despite a decent game, Dragic did not play in the final 15:47 of the game, and it didn’t matter in the end. Miami’s ability to essentially bench Dragic in favor of Johnson (and Mario Chalmers) was a great example of how deep this Heat team is. The bigger decision and display of Miami’s flexibility was going small to match up with Rockets, who were without Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Montiejunas.

During the majority of Miami’s huge third quarter run, they ran a lineup of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Justise Winslow, and Hassan Whiteside — downsizing at the 4 to not only counter Trevor Ariza, but also to compensate for Chris Bosh being held scoreless until he had his own fourth quarter surge, scoring all 10 of his points in the final quarter.

Miami’s finishing units first consisted of Chalmers, Johnson, Wade, Bosh, and Whiteside — a three-guard set. They would eventually sub out Bosh in favor of Winslow again, essentially playing four smalls and a big.

Houston just couldn’t do much about it. Miami swarmed the three-point line, Whiteside shielded off the paint, and Miami pick-and-rolled Houston to death because of it.

4. JUSTISE WINSLOW WAS GOOD AGAIN

For the third straight game, Winslow put up rather modest numbers in the box score, finishing with ten points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 30 minutes off the bench. His value once again superseded traditional box score numbers, with his defensive versatility and heady play shining brighter than the flame in the Heat’s logo — hence Winslow finishing the game a plus-24 as the small-ball 4.

It was not all good for Winslow to start the game. He was a bit tentative, which wasn’t a surprise because he doesn’t like to force shots — or anything for that matter. Even then, he can’t pass up open opportunities like this:

And here was that play live, with Winslow forcing a pass, ironically enough:

That was just a blip for Winslow, though, because he was pretty much awesome for 98 percent of the game.

I can’t stress to you how impressed I am by his basketball IQ on both ends of the floor, and he put that on full display in this one. He makes the smart pass, the aforementioned video notwithstanding. He fills the lane correctly on the fast break. He understands spacing. Like, this was my favorite offensive play from him last night:

It doesn’t look like much at all, and Gerald Green missed the shot. But even without the ball, Winslow read the defense (specifically James Harden), flashed to the basket and drew Lawson away from Green, which gave Green the open look. It’s subtle, but at a very young age, Winslow is just a smart basketball player.

Of course, there were more tangible highlights from Winslow last night, like this sequence:

The student became the teacher here, with Winslow hitting Harden with his own woefully-slow-but-super-productive euro-step:

Once again, Winslow came to play on the defensive end:

This young man has been impressive and has given Heat fans something to rave about in every game. Against the Hornets, it was his highlight dunk in the second quarter:

https://youtu.be/H_POqiMMmlc

Against Cleveland, his tremendous post defense on LeBron James was noteworthy — despite LeBron James being LeBron and making tough shots. Against Houston, Winslow spent time at the 3 and 4 and still managed to guard James Harden — very well, might I add.

5. DWYANE WADE AND HASSAN WHITESIDE WERE SPECIAL

These two have the most chemistry on the team, and I don’t think any other pairing comes close. Wade finished the game with 20 points and eight assists, with seven of those dimes going to Whiteside. Their synergy in the pick-and-roll is incredible, and boy, was it beautiful to watch:

They even came together on defense, terrorizing James Harden:

Individually, both players left their marks — probably burn marks because, duh, they do play for the Heat.

Wade finished the game with 20 points, but sprinkled in points in just about every way. He attacked the basket, finishing with some nifty floaters. He had funny taking Marcus Thornton on the block.

Can I vouch for Thornton really quick? He played really well, leading Houston with 21 points. His defense on this Wade jumper was incredible, but, shoot, this is Dwyane Wade we’re talking about here:

Whiteside started off with some boneheaded plays, which immediately gave me that “OMG HERE WE GO AGAIN” feeling.

I mean, who falls for a CLINT CAPELA pump fake? C’mon:

Also, these passes were inexcusable. But Whiteside passing the ball period is improvement, so I guess we should let these slide? Okay, no, we’re not:

Whiteside did finish with 11 points in the first quarter. For the rest of the game, his defense matched his offense — which was pretty scary.

This was some quality post defense here, which immediately generated a fast break opportunity for the Heat:

 

Not only did Whiteside do a great job of finishing Wade passes, but he was also able to get his on the block when necessary:

The Howard/Jones/Montiejunas trio was out; I get it. But any positive sign after Whiteside’s first two games is welcome. Responding with 25 points, 15 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks is worthy of praise.

Whiteside and the Heat have a big test in Al Horford and the 3-1 Atlanta Hawks. It’s still extremely early, but that game should give us more of a clear picture of where the Heat are on both ends.

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