The Miami Heat once again worked hard to build a solid double-digit lead against a better team only to see it slip away thanks to an elite scorer. Last night it ended in an already legendary play from Dwyane Wade to beat the Golden State Warriors by a point, but tonight it was James Harden who had the last laugh with a jaw-dropping stat line of 58 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds in a comeback 121-118 win Thursday night.
In many ways it was a microcosm of the Heat’s current state of affairs, with stretches of good basketball marred by the Heat’s offense going cold and their defense failing them when it mattered the most.
Josh Richardson’s 3-pointer made it 82-61 three minutes into the second half, the Heat’s 11th in their first 16 attempts for the night. After that it was all downhill for Miami, with Harden fueling a huge 18-4 run that helped turn the game around and cut the lead to seven points. The Heat would only score 20 points in the fourth quarter while the Rockets scored 35 to rally for the win.
Even with Harden’s offensive barrage, the Heat still had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer with 18.9 seconds left and a timeout. A bizarre play quickly unfolded with Dion Waiters dribbling the length of the floor and then retreating back to the 3-point line where he attempted a difficult step back shot. A furious scramble for the ball ended up with James Harden happily dribbling out the clock for the final five seconds of the game, despite Miami still owning a timeout and being down by one shot.
Harden ended up with a Heat franchise record for most points by an opposing player and was three points shy of his career high, going 18-18 from the free throw line by himself — hitting just one less free throw than the entire Heat team. Miami’s apparent strategy of trying to contain the rest of the Rockets team backfired with Harden scoring at will either from the floor or the free throw line.
Still, the Heat kept clawing back and didn’t let the game get away from them after giving up that large lead in the third quarter. Goran Dragic’s 3-pointer boosted their lead to 113-103 midway through the final quarter but they would then allow 14 consecutive points, 10 from Harden alone and wouldn’t get the lead back again after a Chris Paul free throw made it 114-113 — their first lead since the end of the first quarter.
Kelly Olynyk was the Heat’s best player with 21 points in another solid performance as a starter. Goran Dragic looked sharp for the second night in a row with 21 off the bench. Justise Winslow also had a fine game, scoring 19 points with eight assists and seven rebounds but he wouldn’t score again after a jumper with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, including a pair of costly free throw misses that would have cut the deficit to a point with seconds left in the game.
For the better part of the night, the Heat’s offense was able to match the Rockets but it’s a dangerous game for them to try to outscore their opponent without a strong defensive mindset. Last night it worked out for the Heat, tonight it was another sobering reminder that they still have a lot to work on if they want to make the playoffs.