With no Dwyane Wade or Goran Dragic, the Heat put together a collective effort to top the upstart Memphis Grizzlies 100-97 in one of team’s more impressive performances of this young season on Friday night at FedEx Forum.
It was Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk, who finished with 18 points each. It was Tyler Johnson with 17, Derrick Jones Jr. with nine of his 13 in the fourth quarter and James Johnson with 12.
It was the ball movement returning, with the team notching 30 assists — Richardson with seven of them — after just 16 in Utah on Wednesday night.
And it was energy defensively. The Heat went on an 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter and never surrendered it, making defensive stand after defensive stand.
“That’s what we call ‘inspiring plays,’” Spoelstra said. “Those are two, three, four – just those are layups or dunks in any other game.”
A Marc Gasol 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left, which was meaningless once the Grizzlies couldn’t get a steal or foul, provided the final margin, but the Heat were up by more than one possession over the rest of the last four minutes.
After being on the wrong end of a 111-84 outcome against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, one Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the team’s “worst game of the year,” Miami (12-16) rebounded against the now 16-12 Grizzlies.
With everything the Heat did right on Friday to grind one out against the rough-and-tough Grizzlies, Spoelstra believes it was about what the team did on Thursday when it first arrived into Memphis.
“You can just point to the character of showing up [Thursday] night when we fly in, it’s late, it’s raining,” he said. “Not many of us wanted to hit the gym, but we did, you know, just to work and expel the demons of the Utah game and then prepare mentally for a game we knew would be extremely physical.”
Added Tyler Johnson: “I think it was more important after getting whooped like that the other day, just to show a little bit of grit.”
Miami is now 3-2 on the season-long six-game Western Conference road trip, which comes to an end on Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans.
“It just gets us back on the right foot,” Olynyk said. “Hopefully finish this road trip on the right foot, as well.”
In his 16th and final season, Wade missed his last game in Memphis with back soreness. Dragic was sidelined for the 11th time in the Heat’s last 13 games, again with that troublesome right knee.
Memphis got points at or near the buzzer to the second and third quarters. Jones Jr. was called for a foul on Mike Conley that led to three converted free throws to put Memphis up 71-70 going into the fourth. Miami led 51-49 at half as Grizzlies guard Garrett Temple banked in a deep 3 at the first-half buzzer.
Heat director of basketball development and analytics Shane Battier, who played for both franchises, received roaring ovations when shown on the Jumbotron. He was given a microphone during a timeout and had a message of appreciation for the Memphis fans.
Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 22.
Five degrees of Heat from Friday’s game:
1. Back soreness for Wade: “Old,” Wade simply said in the FedEx Forum visitors’ locker room pregame. “My back has been bothering me. I’ve been playing through it, but flight yesterday, woke up this morning very tight.
“It’s not going to do no better playing [Friday] feeling this way. I’m just going to hurt the team out there.”
Spoelstra pregame called it “general soreness.”
Wade originally landed on the Heat’s injury report Friday afternoon with the team listing him as questionable but citing illness.
“He’s not feeling well,” a Heat spokesperson said at the team’s shootaround on Friday, which Wade didn’t attend at the FedEx Forum practice court.
Wade said the soreness had been bothering him the entire trip, but he was pushing himself, motivated by playing his final games in various cities in this his last year of what will be a Hall of Fame 16-year career.
There was no special recognition at FedEx Forum on Friday for Wade, as there have been in other road arenas this season, but he did sign autographs for fans pregame.
2. Return of Whiteside: Center Hassan Whiteside was back in the starting lineup in his first game back from paternity leave.
Whiteside finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
“It was great to have him back,” Spoelstra said. “The locker room was excited to have him back. Even in the minutes that he gave us [Friday night], really impactful. A team with this kind of size, you need size to combat it.”
While mostly uneventful, he was in the thick of defensive action in the first half. On one of his two blocks, he had an impressive swat of Gasol’s driving layup as Whiteside moved his feet. He was called for a foul against Jaren Jackson Jr. on a play where his lip was bloodied, complaining to Heat athletic trainer and his bench that “It’s a foul on my face” as play was stopped and he was attended to.
“Foul on my face, you know? It happens sometimes,” Whiteside said. “But I’m a shot blocker. I’m going to try and go for everything. That’s my job to stay in there and protect the paint.”
His first shot attempt was a corner 3-pointer that missed badly, but he got a much closer look shortly thereafter on a dunk.
Whiteside had missed the first four games of the road trip before joining the team for practice in Memphis on Thursday night before Friday’s game. While home taking care of his first son, Jayden Legend Whiteside, Hassan Whiteside was able to find time to do conditioning with player development coach Anthony Carter.
3. Threes and D: The Heat were sure happy to shoot the 3-pointer on Friday night, firing up 39 of them (making 15) by game’s end, one off their season high.
“They do such a good job of pick-and-roll defense. They’re packing the paint,” Tyler Johnson said. “And then sometimes there were times when we would throw it out, they still had guys closing out really hard. So it was up to us to find the best shot possible.”
During the 11-0 run early in the fourth, a Derrick Jones Jr. 3 ignited it. Then it was Tyler Johnson, and then Kelly Olynyk after a Jones dunk. Johnson and Olynyk each hit four from deep. Josh Richardson and James Johnson drilled two apiece.
The pace slowed down in the middle two quarters and Spoelstra employed different defensive strategies, switching to a modified 2-3 zone and even pressing at one point. Miami won the low-scoring second and third periods, 22-21 and 24-20, respectively.
4. Airplane Mode activated: Jones Jr. played the entire fourth quarter and, in addition to his nine points in the period, provided energetic defense both guarding Conley and helping protecting the rim.
“I just want to be the person on the court with the most energy, and go out there and do what I can,” Jones Jr. said. “I always harp on my defense, and I always want to be that lockdown defender that our team needs.”
Two of his three blocks came in the fourth, during a stretch where the Heat’s effort on that side was decisive.
“It’s the definition of earning the coaches’ and your teammates’ trust. That’s what he’s doing right now,” said Spoelstra of Jones Jr.’s playing time. “He keeps on working at it, getting better, making the most of his minutes and he’s earning more. That’s what you want from young guys.”
5. Justise starts: In addition to Whiteside, forward Justise Winslow got another crack at the starting lineup as the Heat continue to shuffle lineups.
Playing well earlier this road trip, especially in the career-high 28-point effort against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Winslow was off Friday. He had four points on 1-of-8 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and three turnovers.
Winslow also started at the Clippers last Saturday and had a run of nine consecutive starts in November. The Heat haven’t used the same starting five in back-to-back games through the road trip’s first five games.