Late in the second quarter of the Miami Heat’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dion Waiters sprained his ankle on a drive to the basket. Waiters couldn’t put any pressure on his foot as teammates carried him off the court, disqualifying him from returning. And the Timberwolves cut a 14-point halftime deficit to three midway through the third quarter.
It didn’t matter. As they’ve done consistently since mid-January, the Heat players overcame adversity and dominated the fourth quarter.
Tyler Johnson scored 15 points in the third quarter, and the Heat out-scored Minnesota 33-24 in the fourth period to turn a competitive game into a 123-105 rout. At the night’s end, the Heat stood in the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Moving forward, Miami’s biggest concern will be Dion Waiters’ status. X-rays were negative, but the degree of the sprain could lead him to miss key regular season games as the Heat fight for playoff positioning.
#MINvsMIA INJURY UPDATE: D. Waiters (left ankle sprain) had x-rays taken & results returned negative. He will not return to tonight's game.— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 18, 2017
But the Heat passed a test to withstand the absence of their starting shooting guard, continuing to play high-octane offense. Two other members of the Heat’s backcourt — Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic — increased their offensive production to fill in the void. Johnson scored 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, including 2-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. His 15-point third quarter explosion was this highest-scoring quarter of the season.
Tyler Johnson scored 15 in the 3rd quarter - his highest scoring quarter of the season! pic.twitter.com/tGewzCBVH0— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 18, 2017
Dragic, meanwhile, shook off a bad shooting start to put this game away in the fourth with drives to the basket and nice passes to set up teammates. He finished with 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals. All throughout this impressive turnaround of a season, Dragic has served as the catalyst for Miami’s dynamic offense. Players enjoy playing with someone like Dragic. Just look at how James Johnson appreciates this pass to end the half.
It wasn’t just Dragic and Tyler Johnson who upped their level of play after Waiters’ injury. Hassan Whiteside had one of his most complete games of the season, finishing with 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field, 14 rebounds and three blocks. He set amazing screens to free up Dragic, bolstered an uneven Heat offense early in the third quarter and even started the game with a nice assist to a Rodney McGruder layup. These are the types of games from Whiteside that could help the Heat win a playoff series.
And of course, where would the Heat be without James Johnson, who has blossomed as a point forward in his year with the Heat? The player who should get consideration for Sixth Man of the Year had 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, six assists and was a +25 in his 27 minutes of action. James Johnson even took control of Miami’s offense, scoring two straight baskets early in the fourth period when Minnesota was still hanging around.
Despite the Waiters injury, this game gave Heat fans another exciting, fun night of basketball. This Miami team is certainly not as talented as the Big Three era teams, but they’re as fun to watch as those teams were because of how hard and how well they play without the superior talent. And now, this journey looks like it may not be done anytime soon.
The Heat will host the Portland Trail-Blazers Sunday at 6 p.m.