Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 120-118 loss to the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (40-15) on Sunday at Oracle Arena. The Heat stands at 25-29, and faces the Denver Nuggets on Monday on the second night of a back-to-back.
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1. After it was done, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was not pleased with how the game was officiated.
Golden State took 18 more free throws than Miami, finishing with a 26-8 edge in that department. The Heat’s eight free throw attempts tie for its second fewest in a single game this season, and it now has a 6-21 all-time record when shooting eight or fewer free throws in a game.
“Look, NBA, do not fine me,” Spoelstra said. “I’m allowed to say this. It ends up being 26-8. I know nobody wants to hear it and that’s not why we lost. We had a three-point lead [with under a minute left], with a chance to get a stop.”
More specifically, Spoelstra was not happy with two specific calls.
The Heat believes Warriors forward Kevin Durant should have been called for a double dribble before missing a three-pointer with 7.8 seconds to play and the score tied at 118, as center DeMarcus Cousins went on to grab the offensive rebound and draw a foul. Cousins made both free throws to put the Warriors ahead 120-118.
If a double dribble was called when Durant seemed to lose control of the ball and pick it up, the Heat would have had a chance at the final offensive possession with the score tied at 118 and about eight seconds to play.
“Double dribble, everybody can see it,” Spoelstra said. “Those are tough calls to make, but everybody saw it. It’s right there in front of everybody. That should be a violation and you can’t miss those calls. But we had our chances.”
The second call, or non-call, Spoelstra was unhappy with was on the Heat’s final offensive play.
On an inbounds play with 5.4 seconds remaining and the Warriors ahead 120-118, Josh Richardson said he was tripped while trying to get open. Richardson was taken out of the play as he fell to the ground, and Dion Waiters ended up missing what could have been a game-winning three with 2.3 seconds to play.
“I was running to the corner for the inbound,” Richardson said. “I got tripped, slid out of bounds and I got held to the bench. Nobody called it or saw it, so it is what it is.”
After the game, multiple players used this line, “Some things were out of our control,” to subtly refer to their frustration with the officiating.
“The officials, so let’s be clear about it so I do not get fined, that’s now why we lost,” Spoelstra said. “But you hate to see 26-8 [free-throw discrepancy] when our guys are going aggressively and the tricks of the trade and things of that nature, I don’t want to see our guys and I’m not going to give them that that you have to earn it with your record. That’s not what this league is about.”
2. There are no moral victories for the Heat at this point of the season, as it fights to make the playoffs. But this was a loss that included so many positives for Miami.
Not only did the Heat play the Warriors down to the wire on a night All-Stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score 93 points on 36-of-63 shooting (57.1 percent), but Miami’s young core shined.
The 25-year-old Richardson scored a career-high 37 on 14-of-22 shooting from the field and 8-of-11 shooting from three-point range in 37 minutes of action.
“He was terrific tonight,” Spoelstra said of Richardson. “He did it on both ends of the court. That big steal to put us up three and then every time we needed, it felt like during the course of the game, a big bucket, he came up with one.”
The 22-year-old Justise Winslow finished with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists while defending Durant for most of the night.
The 21-year-old Bam Adebayo ended the night with eight points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, one steal and two blocks.
And all three players were in the game down the stretch for the Heat.
This is really what this season is about for Miami. Find out what its young core can do against elite competition, and the trio stepped up to the challenge against the Warriors.
“Those guys, they’re on their way,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not going to be perfect basketball. There’s going to be some ebbs and flows, some ups and downs. That’s what you expect with young guys. But they’re gaining a lot of confidence and a lot of experience. They’re getting better and they’re two-way guys.”
3. Dion Waiters played extended minutes for the second consecutive game, and he says he’s starting to feel like himself again.
In his 16th game since returning on Jan. 2 from ankle surgery, Waiters played a season-high 41 minutes against the Warriors. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-13 shooting from deep, to go with three rebounds and four assists.
More importantly, he said he felt fine after playing more than 40 minutes in an NBA game for the first time since Nov. 1, 2016.
“I feel good, man,” Waiters said after Sunday’s loss. “It just feels good to be back out there. Like I said, getting acclimated and I know my time is going to come. I just got to continue to keep working how I’ve been working, getting myself in better condition. I’m getting there. It’s a process, but I’m playing and I’m still doing extra work. I’m excited. I’m just glad to be in this position right now, being able to play and get back. I feel like my normal self a little bit.”
Waiters is averaging 9.2 points on 39.5 percent shooting, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists this season.
Waiters is still probably depending on the three-point shot too much, as 5.6 of his 9.2 shots per game are coming from behind the arc. He’s averaging just 6.5 drives to the basket per game this season, compared to 14 in 2016-17.
That’s a sign that Waiters isn’t exactly all the way back yet. He still has to get back to his aggressive and penetrating style.
“That’s the first step,” Spoelstra said of Waiters’ threes. “Then every once in a while, he’ll give you that burst that we saw pre-injury. Once he gets in better rhythm, better shape, he still has a little bit to go. He’s not far. But then he’ll have that ability to get to the rim more often. We saw it a little bit in the first half.”
4. There was one eye-opening number that will probably be overlooked because the Heat lost.
Miami attempted 23 more shots than Golden State on Sunday. The Heat took 105 shots and the Warriors took 82, with the help of a 21-7 offensive rebounding edge.
Throw in the fact the Heat surprisingly outscored the Warriors 54-39 from three, and it’s hard to believe Miami lost.
But Golden State did outscore Miami 19-4 at the free-throw line, and that helped.
“It’s not about moral victories,” Spoelstra said. “Our team is trending in the right direction. Our guys feel it, there’s no question about it. But we also have to find a way to close these kinds of games. … It’s not about moral victories right now. We got a lot of work to do in the next 28 games. But certainly, you can point to some things where our team is playing better basketball.”
5. If the season ended with Sunday’s game, the Heat would not make the playoffs. With nine losses in its past 13 games, the Heat dropped to ninth in the Eastern Conference after its loss to the Warriors.
Of course, the season does not end today. But you get the point …
The Detroit Pistons passed Miami for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot based on a conference record tiebreaker. Even though the Pistons have the same 25-29 record as the Heat, it is ahead in the standings because its 16-18 conference record is better than Miami’s 14-19 mark.
And just a reminder, the Pistons signed Wayne Ellington on Saturday. Ellington, who was traded by the Heat last week and ended up in Detroit after he was waived by the Suns, is expected to make his Pistons debut Monday against the Wizards.
The Heat is also 1.5 games behind the No. 7 Charlotte Hornets and 2.5 games behind the No. 6 Brooklyn Nets.