Miami Heat's Crunch-Time Execution Still Lacking as Playoffs Approach

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterApril 5, 2014

MIAMI  Kevin Love raised his arms, extended his elbows, joined his hands and pressed his knuckles against this head, all in understated exasperation. 

It was happening again. 

"It's just the way our season's been," the Timberwolves star said later. 

With the game tied Friday night, Love had shaken slightly free of Chris Bosh, enough to launch the ball 25 feet, on line and through the cylinder, only for it to pop back out.

"Whoo, that was down!" Bosh said. "I was like, hey, I can't play that any better." 

So they played on, first into a first overtime and then into a second, extending an evening on which Minnesota would be eliminated from the playoffs win or lose. If you'd watched the rough-luck Wolves at all this season, you would have bet the house on "lose," since that's what they customarily do in close contests.

That's why they lost too much ground in the West standings to make a real postseason push; only the Bucks, Magic and Celtics have been outscored by more points in "clutch" situations, defined as games within five points with five or fewer minutes left. 

And if the Wolves were playing last season's Miami Heat, that bet surely would have paid off, but the defending champions haven't played up to those same stellar standards down the stretch. In that sense, this 122-121 Wolves win shouldn't have been that surprising.

Miami has been missing free throws, committing costly turnovers and failing to find the free option more often in 2013-14, and it stayed true to that imperfect form Friday. In doing so, it squandered a chance to move a full game above Indiana, which fell flat in Toronto.

"We had our chances to win," Bosh said. "Like eight times, we had chances to win. We didn't capitalize on (any) one. It's just been a weird season. It just seems like that's the vibe this year. So I'm just rolling with it. I stopped fighting it, like yesterday." 

Of course, the Heat's truly meaningful battles are ahead, and they'll need to be better. Much better. Last season, Miami crushed opponents by a league-best 133 points in 175 "clutch" minutes, with Denver next best at plus-59 in 210 minutes, according to

This season, the Heat rank 10th in the league, behind nine other current playoff teams, at plus-31 in 182 "clutch" minutes," and not because of their defense. Opponents are still shooting a poor percentage (39.7) in "clutch" situations, even if the Heat haven't been quite as stingy (36.6 percent) as last season.

The more pronounced slippage has come on the other end, where the Heat have still been extraordinarily efficient in other situations. They have dropped from 48.8 percent to 42.9 percent in "clutch" spots and, with 45 turnovers in those 182 minutes, too often never get a shot off. 

Those giveaways are the troubling takeaway from Friday, more so than the flubbed free throws.

Yes, Mario Chalmers missed the first of two with 3.9 seconds left in regulation and then again with 1.9 seconds left in the first overtime. And yes, LeBron James missed with 16.2 seconds remaining in the second overtime. But both players calmly made the second in each of those situations, and they combined to go 16-of-20 on the night.

Nor was Friday's defense disastrous, with Love simply making some All-Star shots (including a long turnaround hook in the first overtime and a go-ahead three-pointer in the second), and with Norris Cole getting called for a questionable foul on Corey Brewer to set up Minnesota's winning free throw. 

Breaks. Calls. Bombs. That stuff, beyond the Heat's direct control, will happen in the postseason. They may be capable of overcoming some of those oddities, but only if they break some of their recurring bad habits.

"We've got to value possessions more," Bosh said. "We have to be more urgent about that. We're just having uncharacteristic turnovers. We had one where we didn't even run our set. Just, here you go. You just start freaking out. We can't do that in the playoffs. We know how it is. We're going to have to keep our turnovers down." 

In the final 14 minutesregulation and the two overtimesJames committed three, Bosh one and Chalmers one. While that might not seem excessive, every one is one too many in a game decided by a single point.

Those mistakes ended up overriding a lot of the other good work. James' rim-attacking 34 points, Chalmers' overall outburst (24 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Bosh's enormous late offensive board should have been enough to overcome Dwyane Wade's fifth straight absence.

Should have been.

If not for the untimely errors. 

"Sometimes, we see plays happening, and we want to make the right play, but we are turning it over," James said. "I know I had a couple. I had one, we were up three, and I kind of dribbled the life out of the ball, and trying to throw back to Ray (Allen) and he bobbled it and they got a dunk.

"And I had another one, where I drove down the lane and hit C.B. with a bounce pass, and it went off his leg and turned that one over too. That one was an attack turnover, the other one was careless on my part. You've got to be more conscious about it throughout the course of the game, and we are." 

Miami still had a chance to steal the game with 1.9 seconds left in the second overtime. Erik Spoelstra, who had opted for some unusual rotationsplaying Cole for 37 minutes despite prolonged ineffectivenessinserted Shane Battier for the first time, cold, to throw the inbounds pass. 

"There wasn't much there," Battier said. "They switched the initial action to Chris (Bosh)."

That took away the lob.

"The middle part of the play, there was a lot of congestion," Battier said. "They defended it well. It happens."

He passed to Ray Allen who missed a difficult fall-away jumper. 

James thought he had broken free. And he broke from his usual style to say so. 

"For me, it's a little frustrating, being in this position again, and not be able to get the last shot," James said. "After the Indiana game, and it happened tonight as well."

Against the Pacers last Wednesday, he received an inbound pass and quickly passed to Bosh, who missed an off-balance jumper.

"A little frustrating," James said. "I'm a little over it right now, but right after the game I was a little frustrated by it. You give me a second, you give me two seconds, I feel I can get a good look at the basket. Especially on the other side, Kevin Love got three or four looks at it, at making the game-winner. So a little frustrating, but we move on."

He said this while wearing a roomy forest ranger hat, the sort Pharrell has made stylish


"Because I'm happy," James said, smiling and then laughing at the mention of the recording artist's hit song. "Cause I'm happy."

Bosh was too, upon seeing it. 

"Oh, man, that hat made my day!" Bosh said. 

So, at least in that wayif too few otherssomeone on the Heat came through in the clutch. 


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