With 20 seconds left to go in the Miami Heat’s game against the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, Miami had the Pacers on the ropes. Miami had the ball, meaning that Indiana needed to foul or come up with a quick score. But after a failed Indiana attempt at a steal, a few decisive Heat passes led to a Josh Richardson dunk.
The Heat iced the game with that play, winning their second straight home game. And for a team that was just 2-8 at home two games ago, this one was significant.
Miami went through a few droughts in the fourth quarter, preventing them from winning the game more comfortably. But for a team that only stands above Philadelphia and Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference, holding on at home has been a rare task.
Particularly in the first half, Whiteside was dominant. The Heat center finished with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and 22 rebounds, his eighth career 20-20 game. The North Carolina native’s one blemish were his five missed free throws.
Similar to the Heat win against Washington Monday night, Whiteside got a long rest to start the fourth quarter. Immediately after subbing in, Whiteside received an out-of-bounds lob pass from James Johnson and softly tossed it in the basket. Perhaps it was fitting that Whiteside grabbed three rebounds in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
Whiteside received a lot of help from the Heat bench. James Johnson again provided a much-needed spark off the bench, contributing 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Johnson served as the Heat’s safety-valve option on offense, bailing Miami out of bad possessions with nice up-and-under moves and drives to the basket. Johnson also dished out six assists, and again spent time as a “point center.”
Tyler Johnson also played well. The combo guard added 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and five rebounds. To open up the fourth quarter, Johnson made two layups that gave Miami a lead they would not relinquish. The second one came off a beautiful defensive play from Justise Winslow, who played his first game since a 16-game absence at the hand of a wrist injury. Winslow dove for a loose ball off an errant Paul George pass, and then flipped the ball to a speeding Tyler Johnson on the other end of the court.
Winslow was shaky offensively, going just 1-for-5 from the field and even missing his only two shots from the free-throw line. But how many other Heat players could make a defensive play like that one?
Josh Richardson added 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting off the bench. The second-year guard even defended Paul George for much of the fourth quarter, and played good defense to deny him the ball and keep the Pacers from finding any sense of offensive rhythm in crunch time.
Miami’s starting point guard, Goran Dragic, struggled to start the game. But he did make a few timely baskets in the second half, including a nice layup with 3:38 left to give Miami a seven-point lead. (Miami would actually not score again until Richardson’s game-sealing dunk. This Heat team still has a long way to go.)
The Heat will host the Los Angeles Clippers Friday at 8 p.m.