TORONTO — A road win is a good win. A road win in the playoffs is a great win.
But the Miami Heat’s overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday wasn’t pretty. And if they hope to get another win in Game 2 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Heat know they have to play better, especially offensively.
The difference in the game was essentially three tough shots from Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade in the first two minutes of overtime. Johnson hit a short turnaround shot from behind the backboard with five seconds left on the shot clock, a Deng hit a step-back baseline jumper from 17 feet out, and Wade hit a step-back fadeaway from the elbow with one second left on the clock.
All three buckets were unassisted. And on all three possessions, the Heat had nothing else going on if those guys didn’t take those shots.
That was the theme with Miami’s offense on Tuesday. They didn’t often get the shots they wanted, but they often made the shots they needed.
According to SportVU, the Heat were 11-for-20 (3-for-5 from 3-point range) in the last six seconds of the shot clock in Game 1. Wade was 5-for-6, hitting the only 3-pointer he took.
Being able to get buckets late in the clock comes with having Wade and Johnson on your team. Those guys can make something out of nothing better than most of the league.
“We got some good one-on-one players,” Wade said after practice Wednesday. “Sometimes it comes down to that. You play team basketball, but sometimes it comes down to guys got to be able to make plays and make shots.”
But the Heat don’t want to be depending on late-in-the-clock offense too much. They ranked eighth in effective field goal percentage in the last six seconds of the clock in the regular season, but for every team in the league, shots in the last six seconds are much worse than shots that come before.
In Game 1, the Heat took 20 (25 percent) of their 79 initial-offense shots in the last six seconds of the shot clock. That’s a big number, and shooting better than 50 percent on those shots isn’t sustainable.
The Heat have been trying to play faster since the All-Star break. They haven’t turned into the Golden State Warriors by any means, but early offense is generally good offense. And for coach Erik Spoelstra, the key to avoid needing Wade to bail out the Heat late in possessions is what happens early.
“Our spacing was poor,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. “Our organization, particularly on early offense, was poor. And I think we can get better. We’re going to have to be better and get to our spots, because we were caught in some situations where our ball-handler didn’t have anyone to throw the ball to. And that’s usually a strength of ours.”
Here’s the initial action in an offensive possession (Deng coming off a pin-down screen from Hassan Whiteside on the left side of the floor) taking place with 10 seconds already gone on the shot clock…
Here’s Gerald Green standing in front of Deng as Josh Richardson drives the baseline…
And here’s Richardson in the air with nobody to pass to…
“We built some habits to be playing earlier in the clock,” Spoelstra said, “and a lot of the detail of our spacing was not good [on Tuesday].”
The Heat tied a season low with just 12 assists on 40 field goals. After averaging 3.2 passes per possession in the regular season and 3.1 in the first round, they averaged just 2.5 on Tuesday.
The Raptors’ defense was good. They used their quickness to help and recover and did a particularly good job of running Deng (who led the first round with 13 corner threes) off the line.
The Heat got the win and have home-court advantage in the series no matter what happens in Game 2 on Thursday. But they know that their offense has to be cleaner and sharper going forward.
“The way we winded up winning it,” Wade said, “you walk away and you’re like, ‘Yeah, we got the win.’ But you don’t feel too amazing.
“We know we can play better. We know we can do better.”