Goran Dragic had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Josh Richardson blocked a potential go-ahead shot in the final moments, and the Heat closed the game on an 11-0 run to defeat the Atlanta Hawks 101-98 and clinch a playoff berth on Tuesday night.
The win assured Miami of its 20th playoff appearance in 30 seasons and meant an often-lackluster night ended happily.
“There’s only one way with this group,” a relieved Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And it’s the hard way.”
Last year, 41 wins meant the Heat finished one game out of the postseason – while Dwyane Wade and Chicago got the last spot.
This year, the 42nd win meant the Heat are playoff-bound, and Wade is already telling teammates of what that means in Miami.
“The energy in this building is amazing,” Wade said. “A lot of people around the NBA have tried to copy our vibe that we set in this building. It’s flattering. Our fans take a lot of flak from the outside about being late and all these things, but when our fans are in this building it’s still one of the loudest places to play in and you feed off of it.”
They won’t start at home; Miami will open on the road either April 14 or 15.
Hassan Whiteside‘s tip-in with a minute left put Miami up for good, part of an 18-point, 12-rebound night in his first game since angrily saying he wanted more playing time. Tyler Johnson scored 12, Wade had 11 and James Johnson finished with 10 for the Heat.
“Happy we got it clinched,” Whiteside said.
John Collins had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, who got 18 points from Tyler Dorsey and 16 from Damion Lee. Isaiah Taylor added 15 and Mike Muscala scored 13 for Atlanta.
Wade opened the final quarter with a basket to break a 78-all tie, only to have it answered by an 11-0 run for Atlanta. Dorsey made a pair of 3s during the spurt, Muscala made another to cap the burst and just like that the Hawks were up 89-80.
But the Heat had just enough at the end, and now can finally think about the postseason.
“We know, as it looks right now, it’s going to be either Toronto, Boston or Cleveland,” Wade said. “And they are all very, very good teams. So it doesn’t matter who we match up with. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. But obviously, other matchups have more story lines than other ones.”
– Associated Press