The Miami Heat love the big stage and playing on Christmas Day is as big as it gets for the NBA. Almost. I can think of a bigger stage and that’s the one the Heat are trying to reclaim this summer. We’re a long way from the NBA Finals but as the cliche says, all journeys start with one step and this game against the talented young New Orleans Pelicans presented an early obstacle to the Heat goal.
Lead by the immensely talented and dynamic young duo of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram the Pelicans with their new coach (and old Miami pal) Stan Van Gundy are going to be a problem for a lot of teams this year. But this is a problem the reigning Eastern Conference Champs should and were able to solve with a 111-98 result to secure their first win of the season.
Duncan Robinson’s six first half threes set an NBA Christmas Day record and helped the home team grab a 23-point lead at one point. Robinson finished the game with 23 points off 7-13 from deep.
The Pels looked dangerous on offense early behind Ingram but seemed unable to find the dead-eyed Duncan in transition. He nailed four (of five) triples for 12 points in the opening frame to set the tone for the day. The cynical out there will cite Duncan’s upcoming restricted free agent status but I think Heat fans know better. This is what he does.
Miami grew their lead in the second quarter with veteran point guard Goran Dragic bringing his familiar mix of strong drives, creative finishes and friendly dimes. Dragic finished the day with 18 points and nine assists.
Jimmy Butler played 16 minutes in the first half (4 pts., 6 reb., 5 ast.) but thanks to some unfortunate ankle stomping in Orlando spent the rest of the game spectating. At the time of his departure the game seemed out of hand. Without Jimmy’s steady hand, tough defense and clutch scoring, however, it got back in hand for New Orleans.
The Pels deserve some credit though for picking up their defensive intensity, especially on the perimeter, in the third quarter. But ultimately their attempts to “build a f$%King wall” fell short as their extended defense opened up driving lanes for Dragic and paint space for Bam Adebayo. But that Pelicans effort, combined with some star level plays by Brandon Ingram, cut the Heat lead to nine heading into the fourth. Miami lost the third quarter by four points but it felt like 10 as the momentum shifted to young Pelicans.
After seeing their lead diminish to just six points early in the fourth, the Heat settled down and called on some of their poise and continuity. With around six minutes left in the game they retook control behind a swarming defense and unselfish rapid ball movement. And also this from the crafty Slovenian which proved to be a dagger play.
Goran Dragic is magnificent pic.twitter.com/o9kY8QeuVw— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) December 25, 2020
Williamson at least kept things interesting for casual NBA fans with his full athleticism on display attacking the boards and finishing with power and flair. He is a frightening monster of an opponent and ended the game with 32 points and 15 rebounds while Ingram added 28 points of his own. But the Heat were able to shut down all other Pels players and ultimately it’s going to take a more balanced attack to beat this Miami team.
With offensive execution like this the Heat not only beat a team they should beat but sent a strong message to the league that they are ready to repeat their success from last season.
Miami's offense just never stops working and Duncan Robinson's decisiveness is so key to what he does as a shooter pic.twitter.com/14GmAgSVgz— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) December 25, 2020
Notable: In just his second game as an NBA professional, rookie Precious Achiuwa provided a solid 19 minutes and 11 points. His defensive mobility was on display but more impressive is his feel for the game and competitive instincts for the 21 years young 20th overall pick. If he can play like this it will go a long way towards keeping Bam fresh for a season the Heat expect to last well into the summer.
I hope you enjoyed the game, Heat fans, and have a great holiday with your families. Be well and stay safe.