The Miami Heat came out on top against the Detroit Piston 97-96 on a last second tip=in from Hassan Whiteside.
The Heat have struggled defensively over their previous two games against the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. At home against the Raptors, Miami gave up 40 points to All-Star shooting guard DeMar Derozan. A few days later, the team gave up 112 points on 53 percent shooting to the Celtics in a tough four-point loss.
A change in defensive momentum, however, swung the tide for Miami against Detroit, and the Heat only gave up 96 points and got one final bucket as time expired to sink the Pistons and enhance their own playoff chances.
The game was up in the air until after the buzzer, as even Hassan Whiteside wasn’t completely sure that he had made the shot before the final horn.
To add insult to injury Miami still still had no timetable of return for starting shooting guard Dion Waiters, and center Hassan Whiteside was still dealing with a multitude of stitches on his hand. At 35-38, Miami desperately needed a victory over a slumping Detroit team also vying for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons lost four in a row heading to their home matchup and all of them were to sub-.500 teams. On Tuesday night, both teams didn’t struggle to find their offense early, and Miami went into the halftime break leading 55-50.
Solid play came from Miami’s Goran Dragic, who scored a game-high 28 points and dished out four assists. Meanwhile, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took the forefront for Detroit’s offense, pouring in 25 points of his own.
Going into the second half, Miami extended it’s largest lead out to double digits before ending the third period up nine, 78-69. The offensive rhythm was in a groove, and although Detroit was able to keep it close, thanks in large part due to rebounding from center Andre Drummond, the Heat had a commanding presences on the floor.
That all changed in the fourth quarter. The Pistons started chipping away at the lead, eventually taking over by one point with just about four minutes left to play in the contest.
With just 30 seconds remaining, the Pistons held a four point lead 96-92. When Miami got the ball, Pistons sophomore forward Stanley Johnson was called for a sideline violation and Dragic sank a technical free throw to cut the lead to three.
A few seconds later, Dragic sank a short jumper and made it a one point game. Just 10 seconds later, Johnson committed a turnover and the Heat took a timeout with the chance to secure the victory.
Miami’s James Johnson took the ball down the court with 11 seconds remaining, missing a 10-foot shot. Goran Dragic scrapped the offensive rebound and threw the shot at the rim, which missed but found the healthy hand of Hassan Whiteside. The ball grazed of his fingers and rolled in as time expired, sending Miami players up in jubilation.
Whiteside had 17 points and nine rebounds, saying that the mental toughness of the team contributed to their ability to win close games with their backs against the wall.
While the offense was the most exciting part, Miami’s defense re-established its identity. They allowed Detroit to shoot just 29% from beyond-the-arc, and held Andre Drummond to just nine points for the game.
Each win and loss is becoming more crucial as the season nears its end, and while there are two weeks remaining and anything can happen, Detroit took a huge blow to their playoff chances.
Miami will next face the New York Knicks on the road Wednesday night, while the Pistons face the Nets to conclude their two game home-stand.