MIAMI -- The Miami Heat had been up by 21 in the second half of Wednesday night’s win but the Charlotte Hornets were threatening midway through the fourth quarter. A Gordon Hayward turnaround jumper and Terry Rozier 3-pointer cut Miami’s lead to 13 with 5:32 remaining, prompting Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to use a timeout.
Against these same Hornets on Monday in Charlotte, the Heat let a 12-point lead slip away, forcing them to win yet another game in clutch time. The Heat have played 12 clutch-time games this season and have six losses in games they led by double-digits. That’s because the Heat have the league’s third-worst point differential in fourth quarters this season. Spoelstra, having just witnessed his group get out-scored by 10 in the fourth quarter in Monday’s narrow win, didn’t want to see an even bigger lead evaporate on Wednesday night.
The Heat still led by double-digits at the point of his timeout, but Spoelstra wanted to see if the group on the floor – Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin, Jamal Cain, Thomas Bryant and Jaime Jaquez Jr. – could regain control before needing to insert Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry on the first night of a back-to-back set.
“If it would have gotten under 10 then I would have had to bring back Jimmy and probably Kyle,” Spoelstra said after the game. “But I wanted to see if that group would stabilize and have an opportunity to finish this off."
Spoelstra dialed up a pick-and-roll with Jaquez handling the ball and Robinson and Bryant setting screens. Jaquez drew two defenders and then found Bryant for an open dunk.
The Heat went back up by 18 a minute later and the Hornets did not threaten again as the Heat won, 115-104.
While the game never got to the point of feeling in danger, it’s notable that when Spoelstra sought stability he went to the rookie Jaquez.
“That’s not something I would feel just comfortable with,” Spoelstra said. “He’s pretty well-versed and experienced for an NBA rookie at this point.
“We needed to stabilize at that juncture of the game,” he continued. “These would be similar actions that we would run for Jimmy. And I thought it was important for that group to be able to manage that.”
Butler never needed to come back into the game and played just 29 minutes – a valuable breather for Miami’s star who has seen a heavier minutes load in the wake of injuries to Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.
Jaquez managed in multiple ways Wednesday to be “Jimmy Butler-lite.” Not just in the actions Spoelstra drew up, but at one point mimicking a Butler-style spin move out of the post to get to the basket.
Jaquez finished with 17 points on 7 of 17 shooting, six rebounds and eight assists in 33 minutes. He has emerged one of the league’s best rookies and one of Miami’s most reliable role players.
Even though it seems like Jaquez arrived out of the box as an NBA-ready player, he has gotten better as the season has gone on. The second unit led by Jaquez has been used to mixed results, including getting out-scored by nine points in five minutes of Monday’s close call before Butler had to check in and save the game.
Spoelstra in the throes of the game saw an opportunity to test that group again and, this time, they passed.
“They’ve had opportunities where they’ve tried to figure it out and it hasn’t necessarily worked,” Spoelstra said, “but this is how you get better at it.”