MIAMI -- The Miami Heat beat the Golden State Warriors 105-102 on Dion Waiters' game winner, the culmination of his overall brilliant performance. The Warriors don’t always bring their best at the beginning, but they let this one linger too long, giving Waiters the opportunity to strike. As Stephen Curry said after the game, “A guy hits some tough shots like Dion did. You gotta take that pill and realize you put yourselves in that position.”
Or, as summarized by Klay Thompson, "They played harder."
By comparison, the Warriors played as though they had just spent the night in Miami, followed by a reprieve from normal morning shootaround. After scoring 30 points in the first quarter (on 26 shots, mind you), they managed only 18 in the second. In the first half, Curry was the only player who netted a shot from beyond the arc.
No matter. This was all a setup for one of Golden State’s classic third-quarter runs, the moment where they shift from “jog” to “sprint” and cure all ills on an array of forced turnovers, fast-break dunks and transition 3s.
Briefly, it looked as if the Warriors really would restore order in the third quarter. A push led by Kevin Durant and Curry brought Golden State’s advantage to six points. But Waiters would not allow Golden State’s third-quarter takeover to transpire. He was excellent, not only in rhythm on his jumper but wholly under control.
While many of Waiters' shots were difficult, Golden State failed to make him uncomfortable. Specifically, they did not get into Waiters’ left hand, allowing him to take the kind of shots he favors.
“He's much better at pulling up going left, and he showed that tonight,” Thompson said of Waiters.
“But we did get him going right. I don't think he was as successful, but he did make tough shots; and he's a good scorer and you've got to give him credit, but that's on us. You've got to stick to the game plan."
Waiters perhaps hurt Golden State most with his passing, finding cutters after penetration. Amid the savvy passing, Waiters claimed 13 of his 33 points in the third. The best would be saved for last, though.
The Warriors found themselves in trouble at the beginning of the fourth and dug themselves deeper through the middle of the quarter. At 6:51, Zaza Pachulia made contact with Luke Babbitt, resulting in a flagrant foul 1, with Babbitt garnering a technical foul flop. Curry missed the free throw, and Miami cashed in with two freebies by Babbitt, followed by two for Goran Dragic.
The Heat were hungrier. Hassan Whiteside, not usually noted for his verve, made an impressive defensive rebound shortly after the flagrant sequence. Soon after that, Waiters nestled home an and-one floater, pushing Miami’s lead to 10 with 4:58 remaining.
If the Warriors were to salvage this one, they would have to dig deep. They commenced digging.
Curry drew a foul on Whiteside at the rim, resulting in free throws. Golden State went to hack-a-Hassan, and Whiteside obliged with two misses. Thompson netted a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, and Golden State was in business.
The Warriors were still their worst enemies this side of Waiters. Late-game turnovers made this a last-second affair.
With Golden State trailing by five and 1:54 remaining, Curry sucked in the defense and kicked to Durant. The ball didn’t find Durant’s shooting pocket, but KD found the net, cutting Miami's lead to two.
Waiters promptly answered with a contested 3 of his own, and Draymond Green was draped all over him. It brought a close to Golden State’s 8-0 run.
After a Durant turnover, the Warriors quickened the pace, getting two points off a Draymond lob that Durant just managed to ease in and cutting the Heat lead to three. Durant then guarded his former teammate Waiters in isolation, forcing a miss.
That play was followed by Curry racing in transition, leveraging the threat of the 3-pointer for a Shaun Livingston layup. The lead was down to a point with 21 seconds remaining. Dragic caught the inbounds pass, got fouled and made one free throw. With 17.6 seconds remaining, it was 102-100 Heat.
The Warriors did well in the situation, with good ball movement, leading to a Durant pump fake and dunk. Tie game.
All that hard work was about to be undone, though, by a man who had been working hard all game. Waiters dribbled in isolation at Thompson, his earned reward for a fantastic game. Like Kyrie Irving on Christmas, Waiters launched over Thompson’s outstretched arm for a step-back winner.
“Nah, it wasn't good defense,” Thompson said of his final effort. “I've got to press up on him. Make him go around me. Use my length. And I made a big mistake. Cost us. Learn from it. And if we see them again, we'll do that.”
Durant watched with some amused chagrin, saying of Waiters, “He gave me a little wink after [he] hit that 3. It f---ing sucks seeing it go through the rim, but I guess the big brother in me can smile at that one.”
There were 0.6 seconds left, but it wasn’t enough. Despite their talent, despite their well-tuned sense of when to strive, the Warriors had finally, in the end, run out of time.