MIAMI – It was late in the fourth quarter and the Miami Heat were in a nail-biter in a playoff-style game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Dwyane Wade was selected to run the offense in the closing minutes. Then he passed. And he passed again. And he passed yet again.
This is the way the Heat have decided they are going to play, even if it doesn’t fit the mold that observers who want to see the stars decide the outcome may prefer.
Last week this strategy in Utah did not work when LeBron James, as was discussed at some length, put the last shot in Udonis Haslem’s hands. He missed, the Heat lost. Wednesday Haslem didn’t miss, making two big hoops in the final 70 seconds off feeds from Wade, and the Heat beat the Hawks, 89-86.
“A lot of people have a lot of things to say,” Wade said. “But we have confidence in our teammates.”
It was all solid execution basketball, including Wade’s decision to also throw a pass to Chris Bosh for a jumper with 33 seconds left. Bosh was 2-of-13 from the floor on the night and appeared winded playing his first back-to-back in several weeks.
But Wade’s pass to him, like the passes to Haslem, were within the team’s scheme. Just like James’ decision to go to Haslem in that game in Utah. Playing this way is suiting the team just fine this season. They are now 5-2 in games decided by five points or less.
Their late-game execution, which was highly analyzed and often suspect last season, has routinely gotten better. Even if it didn’t include James making plays or Wade taking the shot. The one-on-one isolation stuff makes for great theater but it didn’t make for great success.
“It was something we had a tough time doing last year,” said James, who had 31 points on the night but deferred to Wade offensively over the last two minutes. “It’s good to get one of these.”
In many ways, it was a duplicate of the loss in Utah. This time, however, Wade made two clutch free throws late (he missed one against the Jazz) and the Heat were able to get a defensive stop on the last possession (they didn’t last Friday). More often than not, that is how the Heat hand has played in these situations this season and it’s why they are now 30-9.
Their ability to execute under pressure has improved significantly this season. The meaningful referendum on that issue won’t come until the playoffs. But that doesn’t render what they are doing on the way any less important.
The Hawks beat the Heat last time they were in town when their zone defensive flustered Miami. Atlanta coach Larry Drew went to it again late Wednesday, whistling and flashing his fists in the air to give the signal throughout the fourth quarter.
Yet the Heat were able to handle it, Wade hitting Haslem for a jumper then Bosh for a jumper and then Haslem on a perfect alley-oop after he had suckered in Atlanta’s defense. Three straight valuable and meaningful baskets in a defensive-based, low-scoring game that didn’t rely on superstar isolation plays.
On a night when Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving made game-winners elsewhere with great individual effort, it is not something that was destined to create massive attention. But it is the type of play that the Heat intend to use in the games that will. Regardless of how it might play.
“It was good to see our step of maturity to be able to execute during crunch time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And to trust each other and to be able to move the ball in crunch time and make the right plays.”