The Miami Heat is proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference, but their record (11-4), would look a lot different if they didn’t struggle so hard in the final few minutes of each game.
The Heat blew a 10-point lead with just 4:42 left in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards on Saturday, November 20, and narrowly lost the game 103-100. Unfortunately, this kind of late-game collapse is not an outlier, but a pattern when it comes to the Heat, and it’s happening during games they win as well.
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On November 6, Miami was up by 19 points with 5:20 left to play against the Utah Jazz at the FTX Arena. While the Heat won 118-115, the Jazz nearly brought an upset after going on a 24-6 run to close the game.
Four days later, while playing the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center, the Heat were leading by nine points with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter. The Lakers forced the game into overtime and the Heat lost 120-117.
In the Heat’s second game against the Jazz on November 13, Utah scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, which cut Miami’s 22-point lead down to four points. The Heat came out victorious with a 111-105 win, but the final score was way closer than it should’ve been.
Heat star Jimmy Butler, who’s having one of the best campaigns of his career thus far, averaging 25.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, spoke about the team’s issues late in the game following their loss in Washington.
“I just think everybody has to grow up a little bit and realize if we want to be a really good team, we got to win these games,” said Butler, as reported by Miami Herald‘s Anthony Chiang. “We got to hold onto these leads, we got to keep playing basketball the right way, keep getting stops even when we’re not making shots because that’s what’s going to win us a championship on the defensive end.”
Butler Says the Main Issue Is Defense Flailing, Not Offense
In order to turn things around, Butler believes the answer is stepping up on defense in the fourth quarter.
“It’s not really the offense,” Butler said. “I think it’s more so the defense, seriously. I think we get a good shot every single time. I’m comfortable and confident with the shots that I take. [Tyler Herro], Bam [Adebayo], [P.J. Tucker], Kyle [Lowry], all the way down the line. But we just don’t get no stops on the other end.”
In clutch games, in which the score is within five points during the final five minutes of the game, the Heat is only shooting 31.7% from the field, 2 of 16 on three, and only six assists to 10 turnovers. In fact, the Heat have the league’s second-worst offensive rating during clutch games.
However, Heat forward P.J. Tucker agrees with Butler that the team’s issues rely on their lack of defense. “You get in situations, you’re trying different things,” Tucker said. “Whether we’re trapping, whether we’re staying or we’re stunting. Just different things in different situations on defense.”
On defense, the Heat have the 10th worst rating in clutch situations, a strange stat since Miami entered Saturday night’s game with the seventh-best defensive rating in the NBA.
Erik Spoelstra Says It’s Too Early to Call Their 4th Quarter Collapses a Pattern
According to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, their last-minute loss to the Wizards was an outlier, not one of a continuous pattern.
“This did not feel like the other games at all,” Spoelstra said. “Yes, we were in control. But it was a close possession game those last six minutes and then you have to make some plays.”
Butler added, “This league is very humbling. It’s fragile and just as soon as you think you’re good and you’re high on yourself, you get hit like this. I don’t think we should have lost this game. We did. You can say we learned from it and we’ll go to the drawing board. But I’m hoping this is the last time that this happens, but I can’t guarantee that.”