Ray Allen Gets Heat Back In Winning Rhythm
Mario Chalmers passed to the other team trying to get the ball to LeBron James. Then the Heat waltzed through a sleepy possession without taking a shot before the 24-second buzzer reverberated throughout AmericanAirlines Arena. On the ensuing Heat possession, James turned the ball over, failing to protect the ball on a drive and letting Chandler Parsons poke it away for a fast-break layup. Then Wade gave an encore on the next trip, flubbing the ball trying to take it solo against Dwight Howard. Wade followed up that turnover by taking back-to-back midrange jumpers early in the shot clock.
The Heat devolved into me-first, isolation-heavy basketball and the Rockets erased a seven-point lead. The Heat were on their way to their sixth loss in their last seven games.
And then Ray Allen happened.
With timely 3-pointers and deft basket cuts, the 38-year-old helped propel the Heat to a decisive 15-0 surge in the fourth quarter that left the Rockets on the losing end for the third straight game. Despite James Harden's best efforts to put the team on his back, Allen stole the show with a team-high 25 points, the most Allen has ever scored in a Heat uniform.
That Allen rescued the Heat out of their slump is not a coincidence. James, Wade and Chris Bosh require shooters like Allen to stretch the floor and provide a pressure release for the offense. Just when James and Wade fell into selfish mode, Allen helped pull them out of it. When the shooters get going, so do the Heat's star trio.
"It's always a collaborative effort with shooters," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the Heat's 113-104 win over the Rockets. "It's a symbiotic relationship because you have to work together to get a shooter open."
Working together has been an issue as of late for the Heat. Wade admitted after the game that he's hunting for his shot more recently. Since he got two games off before the All-Star break, he has looked like a different player, averaging 21.4 points on 55 percent shooting. His knees feel good, and when his knees feel good, he looks like his old self as a No. 1 option again.
"I am taking my shots," Wade said. "Maybe I am focusing more on them now. When you aren't getting 20-something a game you have to focus a little more on them."
But is that a good thing for the Heat? It's no secret that James and Wade haven't made music on the court together recently. At Saturday's Heat practice, James came clean and said Wade's improved health and confidence, even though it should pay dividends down the road had "gotten me out of rhythm."
The underlying James-Wade splits have been staggering. In fact, entering Sunday's game, James had scored 34.5 points every 36 minutes with Wade looking on the bench since the All-Star break -- a huge number. However, when Wade has shared the court with him, James' scoring rate has dropped to 21.6 points every 36 minutes, which coincides with a huge decline in free throw attempts. Even if we ignore James' 61-point game, James has been at his best recently without Wade as his co-pilot.
That all seemed to change in Sunday's first half when Wade and James worked together to make life much easier for each other. After missing two layups over Howard and retrieving the offensive rebound, Wade didn't try to force a third. Instead, he dumped the ball to the streaking James who skied over Howard for a dunk. Later, on a fast break, James found Wade leaking out in transition on the other side of the floor, leading him with a perfect bullet pass like a quarterback finding his wide receiver deep on a slant route in the end zone.
But these synergistic moments disappeared in the third quarter, only to return when Allen started going off. The Rockets certainly had a hand in Allen's outburst. They routinely lost Allen on defense in the fourth quarter. On one particular possession, coming out of a timeout up five with 6:13 left, the Rockets literally forgot to put someone on him. Allen capitalized on the miscommunication by hitting a 3-pointer in the corner -- three of his 14 points in the final frame.
"I don't know what we did," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the play. "From that point on, we really didn't ... we missed a few shots. We had a couple of good shots and we took some bad shots. We didn't play very well down the stretch. I have no idea what happened."
After Howard was whistled for a delay-of-game technical with 4:12 left in the game, the Rockets never scored a bucket the rest of the way and the Heat ran away with the game.
Nonetheless, the Heat still have plenty of work to do to get Wade and James thriving together. For the second time in three games, James didn't make a field goal in the fourth quarter. But James and Wade survived by helping facilitate Allen's onslaught down the stretch.
"When we're unselfish down the stretch like that," Allen said, "we have a great rhythm to how we run our plays."
When asked about the common link between back-to-back 20-point games, Allen pointed to cooperation with his teammates, something that Spoelstra has been stressing in recent days as his team piled up L's in the standings.
"It's a team thing," Allen said. "It is what we're doing as a team. The team is making a more concerted effort of finding me and I'm getting great rhythm looks. In the games we've lost, we were a little impatient."
Patience has always been a hallmark of this era for the Heat. James and Wade have back-to-back championships together to show for it and with Wade healthy again, they're still searching for that right balance of individual and team. If history is any indication, chances are they'll find it soon.
"When you take instinctual players that are accustomed to having the ability to make plays for their team and have that ultimate confidence to be able to do it, there is a process to it," Spoelstra said. "The thing about that process is that it never ends."
Around the Association
MVP: Anthony Davis scored a career-high 40 points and added 21 rebounds to become the first player to produce a 40-20 game this season. The Pelicans ran everything through him offensively and Davis snatched every big defensive board while also blocking three shots.
Co-MVP: Jeff Green's performance shouldn't be overlooked just because the Celtics came up short. He kept the Celtics in this game, scoring 39 points on just 23 shots and hit big shots and free throws down the stretch to give the Celtics a chance.
That was ... inexcusable: Al-Farouq Aminu fouled Green on a 3-point attempt with 4.9 seconds left in regulation and the Pelicans up by three. Green stepped to the line and hit all three shots. Then, Aminu did it again with the Pelicans up four in overtime and just seven seconds left on the clock, giving Boston new life yet again.
MVP: While he started slow, Stephen Curry caught fire in the second half, when he scored 28 of his game-high 37 points. Honorable mention to Klay Thompson, who added 27.
Defining moment: Down one with 11 seconds remaining and the Portland crowd roaring, Curry set up Thompson for the go-ahead 3-pointer. On the following possession with the chance to tie, Nicolas Batum's free throw rimmed out.
That was ... a heck of a comeback: The Warriors, who couldn't buy a bucket early, trailed by as many as 18 in the first half. The win also moved Golden State to within just 1½ games of Portland for the fifth seed in the West.
MVP: On his 25th birthday, Blake Griffin celebrated by flirting with a near triple-double against the Cavaliers. He had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to help lead the Clippers to their 11th straight win.
X factor: Griffin wasn't the only Clipper celebrating his birthday on Sunday. So was Reggie Bullock, who turned 23 years old. The rookie christened the day by scoring a career-high 14 points (5-for-9 shooting) off the bench.
That was ... scary: Late in the first quarter, Kyrie Irving injured himself after colliding with Griffin during a Clippers offensive possession. Irving was forced to leave the game and was later diagnosed with a left bicep injury.
MVP: Ray Allen outscored each member of the Heat's big three. The 38-year-old went 7-for-11 from the field, 4-for-6 from behind the arc and 7-for-7 from the line for 25 points. He hit 14 in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
Defining moment: After a made shot with 4:26 left in the game, Dwight Howard got a delay-of-game technical for tapping the ball to the ref. The tap actually sped up play. After the call, the Rockets didn't score again until there were only 6 seconds left. The Heat outscored Houston 15-2 to end the game.
X factors: The big three for the Heat scored 66 points on top of Allen's 25, and shot 25-for-44 from the field. When your X factors for the game are James, Wade and Bosh, you aren't going to lose many games.
MVP: Kemba Walker (21 points, eight assists) and Brandon Knight (21 points, seven assists, eight rebounds) went back and forth at each other all game long, but Walker set up his teammates with four assists in the fourth quarter as the Bobcats pulled away late.
That was ... a tidy little revenge game: Gary Neal scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half in his return to Milwaukee. His 3-pointer with 1:06 left (off an assist from Walker) sealed the win.
LVP: The Bucks played (and lost) a rare pair of weekend matinees. The noon starts were not kind to Khris Middleton. In 59 total minutes, he went 6-of-25 from the field with three rebounds and a +/- rating of minus-35.
MVP: Gerald Green finished with 28 points, five boards and two assists and his first-quarter outburst kept the game in striking distance for the Suns. He was terrific off the bench for Phoenix.
X factor: The benches. The Suns' bench, led by Green, outscored the Raptors' bench 59-11 and grabbed almost as many rebounds (25) as the entire Raptors team (26). In a close game that made all the difference.
That was ... important: The Suns entered this game 4-6 in their previous 10 and having fallen out of the Western Conference playoffs. They need every game to keep their hopes alive, so getting one on the road against a good team is huge.
MVP: Whenever you looked up, Manu Ginobili was doing something positive to drive the Spurs' offense, leading San Antonio in scoring with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
X factor: We shouldn't be surprised that the Spurs were effective from 3-point distance, but 10-for-16 (63 percent) is just absurd. Utah struggled to defend San Antonio everywhere on the floor, but it was especially poor from the perimeter.
That was ... San Antonio's 15th straight season with 50-plus wins: Not only that, but it's the third season in a row that the Spurs have been 50-16 through the first 66 games. San Antonio's consistency is creepy.
MVP: Kevin Love had an efficient performance in victory Sunday. The Wolves' All-Star scored 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting while also grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out five assists. With just about a minute remaining in the game and trailing by one, Love also hit a timely 3-pointer that put the Wolves up 97-95.
LVP: Ben McLemore once again showed his youth in the loss against the Wolves. Kevin Martin took advantage of McLemore's inexperience, scoring 31 points on the 21-year-old rookie. Martin scored 10 of those points in the first quarter, where McLemore picked up two of his six personal fouls.
X factor: For the 10th time this season, the Kings played without DeMarcus Cousins. And for the 10th time this season, that meant another loss for the Kings. Sacramento has been unable to produce a victory when Cousins has missed action this season. He did not play Sunday because of tendinitis in his right knee.
MVP: Jose Calderon led a strong team performance from Dallas with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists. His four 3-pointers were key to building an early lead and keeping the Thunder at bay in the third quarter.
X factor: Dallas shot a scorching 53 percent from the field. Oklahoma City was frigid, shooting only 37 percent. Sometimes the difference is a simple matter of who is hitting shots.
Defining moment: The Thunder managed to close an early double-digit lead to four by the 4:30 mark of the second quarter. Shawn Marion, then 1-for-5, exploded with 10 points over the remainder of the period to help extend the Dallas lead to double digits. The Thunder would not recover.
3. Sunday's Best
Anthony Davis, Pelicans: Davis set career highs with 40 points and 21 rebounds in a 121-120 overtime victory over the Celtics. Davis made 14 of 22 shots and sank 12 of 12 from the free throw line. Davis was the first to have a 40-20 game against the Celtics since Shaquille O'Neal on March 21, 2003.
4. Sunday's Worst
Milwaukee Bucks: Yeah, Gary Neal had to go. The guard, who clashed with coach Larry Drew and center Larry Sanders was sent packing on Feb. 20, returned and scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half in a 101-92 Bobcats win over the team with the NBA's worst record.
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6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Look, they're down a great player, so we caught a break there. But you've still got to go out and play, and they've had a great record with and without [Russell] Westbrook."
-- Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, after his team beat Oklahoma City 109-86, ending a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Thunder.
8. Brow-Raising Performance
9. Stat Check
Anthony Davis, who is just four days past his 21st birthday, scored 40 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the Pelicans' overtime win over the Celtics. Davis is the third-youngest player in NBA history to have a 40-point, 20-rebound game. John Drew had two such games before turning 21 years old in 1974-75 as a member of the Hawks, and Shaquille O'Neal was a couple of weeks shy of his 21st birthday when he did it for the Magic on February 16, 1993.
Davis is only the third player with a 40/20 game against the Celtics over the last 40 seasons. Mike Gminski of the Nets did it against Boston on April 9, 1986 (41 points, 22 rebounds) and Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers did it on March 21, 2003 (48 points, 20 rebounds). Both of those games were regulation length games.
Davis has scored 194 points and hauled in 86 rebounds over his last six games. Only one other player has scored that many points and had that many rebounds over a six-game span since the 2000-01 season. Kevin Love had two such stretches, one in March 2012 (202 points, 93 rebounds) and one in February of this season (205 points, 92 rebounds).
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