Tyler Johnson turned toward the Miami Heat bench and slapped his chest as one of the Heat’s few three-pointers dropped through the net. James Harden’s contest wasn’t tough enough to stop the guard from continuing his miniature rampage through the final four minutes. A possession earlier, Johnson slid to the rim for a layup. On the defensive possession before, Johnson blocked Harden from behind as the Houston Rockets guard barrelled to the rim.
Miami, which had led by as much as 11 in the second half, had just watched the Rockets steal a one-point lead with 4:26 remaining before Johnson triggered a run of five unanswered points with his play on both ends. It was exactly what the Heat needed to eventually hang on for a 101-99 win against Houston in Miami.
Johnson scored two more points in the final four minutes to finish with 19 in the game, but his individual burst was only one of several for the Heat. Combo guard Josh Richardson scored a team-high 22 points, buoyed by a 10 point third quarter. Small forward Derrick Jones Jr. scored 15 points by constantly chipping in with hustle plays for putback dunks and transition opportunities. Even forward James Johnson, whose minutes have waned this season, scored 10 points in the third quarter to carry Miami (14-16) back from behind and finish with 11 for the game.
Before the Heat returned home, it found a formula for success on its six-game West Coast trip — play suffocating defense and find offense any way it can. On Thursday, Miami did it again to notch a season-best three-game winning streak.
$20 for 365 Days of Unlimited Digital Access
Last chance to take advantage of our best offer of the year! Act now!
By holding the Rockets (16-15) to 99 points, the Heat has now gone five straight victories without letting the opponent crack the 100-point plateau. Miami got its offense from five different double-digit scorers and 62 total rebounds.
The contrasting styles were apparent early. A night after setting the single-game record for made three-pointers in a win against the Washington Wizards, Houston opened with a barrage from beyond the arc. Houston made 6 of its first 7 and finished the half with 12 makes from long range.
On the other end of the floor, the Heat stayed afloat by rebounding. Miami made just 5 of its 20 three-point attempts in the first half, but went into the break down only 58-53 because of 14 offensive rebounds and a 32-18 rebounding edge overall. Tyler Johnson, Richardson and Jones all scored 10 points in the first half to provide enough of a scoring punch for the Heat.
At the 7:48 mark of the third quarter, Miami took the lead for the first time and hung on to it most of the way. The Heat, mired by poor third quarters all season, outscored the Rockets 29-18 in the period, led by 10 points from forward James Johnson, who didn’t play a single second in the second quarter.
This was the sort of formula the Heat leaned on Thursday. Miami coughed up 33 points in the first quarter as the starters struggled, then benched James Johnson, swingman Rodney McGruder and center Hassan Whitesidee for the entire second quarter to start making up ground. In the third quarter, coach Erik Spoelstra turned back to the starting lineup, including those three — the Heat was plus-7 in the quarter when those three were on the floor.
With 6:04 left, Spoelstra went back to Whiteside, entrusting the center with fourth-quarter minutes for the first time since a win against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 2. In those final minutes, Whiteside grabbed eight rebounds. As time ran out and shooting guard Eric Gordon’s final three-pointer clanked off the rim, Whiteside skied to pull in one final board. There would be no extra chance for Houston.