Miami Heat fans suffered through too many close games last season and the trend continues in the first three games of the 2018-19 season with a heartbreaking 113-112 loss to the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.
In their home opener, the Heat were out of sorts defensively — to put it mildly — and the Hornets made them pay with 34 and 38 points respectively in each of the first two quarters while knocking down 12 3-pointers. Kemba Walker led the way with 39 points to lead all scorers, but it was a team effort that allowed them to build a 20-point lead in the second quarter and continue to be dominant in the beginning of the second half.
By the time the score reached 82-56 midway through the third quarter, it looked like the game was over in one of those nights in which the victory would be sealed early.
That’s precisely when Goran Dragic took the game over and got aggressive, scoring 13 points in the third quarter alone to help chip away at the lead. Hassan Whiteside, ineffective in the first half, and Dwyane Wade, in his final home opener, also got it going when it looked like all hope was lost.
The Heat got serious and began making the kind of plays you wish they had made in the first half before they dug themselves a huge hole, necessitating precise execution the rest of the way to even have a chance to get back into it. And yet somehow they did it play after play to rattle the Hornets’ offense and get high percentage shots of their own.
Wade led the team with 21 points in 25 minutes, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers he made in the fourth quarter. Charlotte’s defenders rushed at him the next time he had the ball beyond the arc only to see the Heat legend make them pay with a perfect pass to Whiteside for the easy dunk to cut the lead to 107-105.
Charlotte came back, though, and made just enough baskets to hold off Miami in the final minutes of the game. Walker sank a 3-pointer of his own in between Wade’s pair of threes, and then came back with another one after Whiteside’s dunk to make it 110-105.
Bam Adebayo had already helped cut the deficit to a single point with a pair of free throws midway through the final quarter before being subbed out for Whiteside. (Despite scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the quarter, he wouldn’t return again until the final play of the game.) Miami again got it down to one point on Rodney McGruder’s basket with 45 seconds left to make it 111-110.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made one of two free throws to set up another potential game-winning play for the Heat. Wade missed badly on a 3-point attempt and got his own rebound for the quick layup to tie the game but Walker was able to draw a questionable foul call against McGruder with 0.5 seconds left in the game while driving to the hoop and made his first free throw to secure the hard-fought victory.
Miami’s record now stands at 1-2, all decided by three points or less. Although it might be of use later in the season to have all this experience in crunch time, the team really shouldn’t be this inconsistent with so many players returning. Losing to division rivals might also come back to haunt the Heat too, and they have now lost against two of them while squeaking by the Wizards.
The Heat will host the New York Knicks at the AmericanAirlines Arena on October 24 at 7:30pm.