Explain it? Explain a 10-1 record in the playoffs? Explain coming back from Thursday’s 17-point deficit? Explain being outscored 15-2 one stretch in the fourth quarter — and the Miami Heat still cruising to a 106-101 win against Boston in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
There’s only one way to explain any of that:
It was Goran Dragic’s turn this time.
That’s it. That’s the simple version. All this crazy run, the storyline has been there is no single storyline. It’s not just Jimmy Butler scoring 40 points, not Tyler Herro taking un-rookie-like shots, not just Bam Adebayo making a block for the ages, not just Jae Crowder being a steal in the mid-season trade.
It’s Dragic on Thursday making all those important shots he’s been making in the first half all these playoffs now in the final minutes.
“That’s the thing about this team — you never know who’s going to have a big night,” Adebayo said.
You never even know how it’s going to happen. It started for Dragic in a 95-95 game when he drove into Boston’s Kemba Walker with the kind of coin-flip call — charge or block? — that went his way. Block, the call came. Dragic made the two free throws to put the Heat up, 97-95, with just over two minutes left.
Then he made a 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down. Five-point lead. Less than two minutes to go.
With 57.1 seconds left, Dragic’s jumper made it 104-98 and now you could see what once was the unlikeliest of finish lines for the Heat. Dragic, who finished with a game-high 25 points, pumped his fists running down court after that final jumper.
“It depends how the game is going,” Dragic answered about if he decided this team needed him to score at the end. “If you see Jimmy having a mistmatch, you throw the ball to Jimmy. If Tyler, then he gets the ball. If something else, like tonight, the ball comes to me.”
Then he said what they all say: “We just try to make the right play. We have guys who aren’t afraid of big moments.”
This doesn’t feel like it’ll be a seven-game series. More like a 27-game series. Even in the NBA, where it’s a game of runs, these first two meetings feel like there are four or five mini-games stuck inside them.
Look at Thursday. Boston dominated the first half and stretched its lead to 17 points in the third quarter. The Heat then outscored Boston 37-17 by that time that third quarter finished.
Then Boston made a 15-2 counter run.
Then Dragic led the counter-counter run.
“Some games you have to create something out of nothing, and Goran was able to do that down the stretch,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
This all reduced Boston to a screaming match in their locker room, according to Boston reports. That’s the stakes coming into play when you lose two, second-half, double-digit leads in two games. Marcus Smart left without talking to reporters.
“We’ve got to take that same fire and add it to Game 3,” Celtic Jaylen Brown said.
They have more than a shouting match to consider. Namely, how did the Heat dismantle them in the third quarter? How did they forget how to play pick-and-roll defense so Adebayo brought the Heat back?
“We stopped playing on both ends,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said on ESPN before the fourth quarter.
The seven third-quarter turnovers?
“We didn’t cut at all, we didn’t pass at all, we didn’t play at all,” he said.
There’s some of that. There’s also some of how Spoelstra a question about Boston’s strong first half: “You get to the conference finals, it’s not all about you. Boston had a lot to say about how that first half was going. I’d love to say it was all about us, but it was about them putting us on our heels.”
The Heat put Boston on its heels in the second half. That’s what they’ve done enough all playoffs. Now they play the Guard-Against-Human-Nature game. A 2-0 lead is a nice lead. You can see the end from there, if you care to look. But the idea is not to look. Not now. Not yet.
These bubble playoffs are fraught with lessons. Denver has twice come back from 3-1 series deficits to advance. You think you’ll hear about that from the Heat coming up?
The staggering stat is the Heat are 10-1 in the playoffs. Think about that. They had a nice, 44-win season. They’ve turned it on in a manner few teams have done in NBA history.
It has been so constant you keep telling yourself this can’t go on. It was like Boston shooting 58.1% in the first half Thursday. That couldn’t go on, right? And it didn’t. There was the mathematician’s regression to the mean.
Can the Heat keep this playoff run going?
There’s no LeBron. No Alpha Star. But maybe that’s the story in the bubble where well-rounded teams compose three of the final four (Boston, Denver and the Heat). The Heat have a line-up of good to very good players — and one or two who play great with a big game on the line.
It’s not like Dragic has been quiet. You know the Heat’s leading scorer these playoffs? It’s Dragic with a 21.9-point average. He just moved his shot-making to the final minutes Thursday. On a team where anyone stars, it was his turn.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)