The Miami Heat suffered a disappointing 97-91 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, highlighted by a blown 19-point lead. Following up that kind of performance only to see the San Antonio Spurs next up on the schedule was cause for tears:
Even with LaMarcus Aldridge sitting out for rest — the Spurs were playing their fourth games in six nights, and had just sat Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on Saturday — the Heat were still underdogs, and rightfully so.
The Spurs jumped on the Heat early and maintained a double-digit lead in the 10-15 range for most of the first half before a late run brought the Heat within eight to end the half.
The tide changed in the second half with Miami’s offense coming alive (113.9 ORTG compared to 89.5 in the first half), and even gained the lead midway through the fourth quarter before Kawhi Leonard went nova, scoring 16 of his 27 points, with 14 coming in the final 6:48.
Moral losses may not be a thing in hyper-competitive NBA locker rooms, but it’s hard not to see Miami’s effort as a good one. The biggest development was how their new big three — Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Justise Winslow — all stepped up their games.
STATS: 27 points (tied career high, 10-15 FG, 7-10 FT), 15 rebounds, 4 blocks, +7
Once again, Whiteside dominated the paint on both ends of the floor.
For most of the night, Whiteside displayed patience in the post that, quite frankly, I wasn’t used to. He had the hook working (3-4 FG), showed off his footwork on a few moves, and even hit a turnaround jumper because #whynot.
Teams are still walling off the paint to take away his threat as the roll-man, but that gravity helped. Game two of Whiteside’s return to his jumper-throws was a success, draining 70 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Whiteside was a menace defensively on the interior, swatting three shots (the 4th was a Gasol mid-range jumper), and contesting several others. Overall, the Spurs shot 4-13 (30.8% FG) at the rim against Whiteside.
STATS: 25 points (9-17 FG, 3-7 3PT, 4-6 FT), 5 assists, 1 steal, +6
Dragic had a poor showing in Charlotte on Friday, with the Hornets making a concerted effort to wall off the paint. He was able to redeem himself against the Spurs, slicing the Spurs up in transition en route to his best offensive performance of the season.
Dragic erupted for 17 points in the second half, his most notable bucket coming in the form of a driving lefty hoop-plus-the-harm to give the Heat the lead:
Love Dragic's reaction at the end of this layup through traffic. https://t.co/pPVhSlTT5U
— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) October 31, 2016
When Dragic is wheeling and dealing in space like he was in the second half, he’s pretty difficult to deal with.
STATS: 18 points (7-15 FG, 0-3 3PT, 4-5 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, -2
Though Winslow’s performance in Orlando on Opening Night was good, his performance against San Antonio was his best game of the early season; negative plus-minus be “darned.”
He was solid defensively, battling against Kawhi Leonard before getting into foul trouble and getting swapped onto Johnathon Simmons to avoid foul trouble. He was still able to give us highlights like this one:
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) October 31, 2016
Winslow only finished with two assists, but looking at NBA.com’s “adjusted assists” which adds up regular assists, hockey assists, and free throw assists (passes that led to a shooting foul), Winslow was second on the team with seven (Dragic had eight).
With the ball in his hands more, Winslow is starting to show flashes of the vision he showcased at Duke, as well as the last two years in Summer League (for whatever that’s worth to you):
— Danny Martinez (@DannyMartinez4) October 30, 2016
Though his jumper still isn’t there, Playmaker Justise is becoming more of a thing.
He especially balled out on both ends when Miami slid him to the 4, though his SportVU numbers don’t necessarily reflect that on defense. Overall, it was an encouraging performance for Winslow.