It almost followed the same pattern as the night before, but this time the Miami Heat pulled off a gritty road victory in crunch time to keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive with a 106-103 win against the Washington Wizards.
Though Hassan Whiteside had struggled mightily in the first half of his prior two games, indeed going scoreless in both games, he was an unstoppable force tonight with 30 points (just two shy of his career high) and 12 rebounds. James Johnson added 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in his third consecutive start and hit the go-ahead basket with seconds left in regulation off a nifty isolation move towards the basket.
Josh Richardson was perhaps the Heat’s most important player of the night with his solid defense against John Wall and he made critical plays on offense to help his team in Dion Waiters’ absence. While he only scored 10 points, he had five steals and hounded Wall all night long, forcing the All-Star point guard into 5-18 shooting and 10 turnovers.
Wall was clearly not his usual dominant self, only ending up with 16 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds, but neither was the other half of Washington’s talented backcourt, Bradley Beal who also ended up with 16 points on 6-15 shooting. Markieff Morris ended up leading the team in scoring with 21 points but the home team never held a sizeable lead against the Heat, who always seemed on the verge of stealing this game if they could keep clawing away with their trademark tenacity.
Washington went on a 9-2 run to grab their first lead soon after the game began with Morris scoring seven early points. Miami stormed back with a 7-0 run to tie it at 17-17 with less than four minutes left in the first quarter powered by Whiteside’s hot start from the field. They also strung together a 9-2 run to open a 5-point lead with five minutes left in the second quarter after a great hustle play by James Johnson to assist Tyler Johnson on a layup.
Though Washington was able to put the clamps on Goran Dragic, who only scored his first basket with 25 seconds left in the first half after missing his first four shots, he came around in the second half to finish with 18 points and seven assists.
Second year Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr., starting in the place of Otto Porter, went scoreless in the first half but exploded for 11 points in the third quarter to make up for Wall’s uncharacteristic struggles. But the Heat’s balanced attack eventually broke through the back-and-forth lead changes in the second half.
It was still close all the way through and the Heat got lucky with an Oubre turnover when he overthrew an inbounds pass to Wall that robbed them of a chance in the closing seconds to answer back with a basket. Whiteside would then block Beal’s desperation 3-pointer that could have tied it at the buzzer.
Thanks to the Chicago Bulls’ surprising loss to the Brooklyn Nets, they are now tied with the Miami Heat with the same 39-41 record, though the Bulls own the tiebreaker and for now keep the #8 seed. But the Heat’s victory keeps them alive for another day, indeed they are the only remaining East team currently out of the playoff picture that has not been eliminated yet. Miami for now can only focus on beating the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Wizards again to close out the regular season.