Before Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, all the Miami media assembled on a Zoom call were asking Heat coach Erik Spoelstra about 3-point shooting, 3-point shooting, 3-point shooting.
Maybe they should have been asking about defense.
On a night when the Jazz’s normally-prolific offense was sputtering just a bit, an epic shutdown effort proved more than sufficient to carry them to their seventh straight win — 112-94.
It was Utah’s 18th victory in its past 19 games, and bumped up to 22-5 on the season.
It was not like many of their previous ones, though, wherein they simply bury their opponent with a barrage of 3-pointers. While Utah’s deep-ball shooting would eventually come around a little bit, they were just 1 of 12 beyond the arc in the opening quarter and 3 of 21 by halftime.
Still, in spite of all those bricks, some incredible defensive sequences by Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neale — even Miye Oni — powered Utah into the lead.
They took it up another notch right after halftime.
Miami’s first 14 possessions of the third quarter consisted of 11 missed shots and three turnovers, as the Jazz scored 16 straight and turned a five-point lead at halftime into a 63-42 advantage.
“We’re a hell of a shooting team, but we know that our shots aren’t going to fall some games, [and] our defense is what’s going to really keep us in the games,” said O’Neale, who also contributed eight points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks. “First half, we were a little slowed, and coming in into the third quarter, we knew we had to pick it up. It started with myself, and then everybody followed behind.”
Indeed, the Heat did not get a ball in the basket until there was just 5:51 left in the period, and wound up totaling just 15 points in the quarter on 5-for-20 shooting.
And so it was that, one night after seeing four players contribute 25-plus points in an offensive onslaught against the Bucks, the Jazz had just one get there vs. the Heat (Donovan Mitchell, with 26 points on 9-for-21 shooting) — and it did not matter.
They got enough points from players in spurts — Bojan Bogdanovic getting to the rim in the first quarter, Georges Niang knocking down some rare 3s, Mitchell going on a personal 7-0 run to open the third, Gobert dunking his way to 11 points in the fourth — that they were able to keep it close early, then pull away late.
In the end, the Jazz wound up just 12 of 46 (26.1%) from 3-point range for the game.
That’s why all those little things on the other side added up. O’Neale single-handedly (literally) stopped two Miami transition opportunities by being in the right position and simply swiping downward and knocking the ball away.
“I just got quick hands, I guess,” he said sheepishly when asked how he’s perfected the knack of it.
Meanwhile, Gobert had an incredible sequence in which he stymied a 2-on-1 featuring All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
First, he didn’t overreact to Butler’s drive to the rim, staying well-positioned and forcing a pass. Then, despite biting on Adebayo’s pump-fake, an incredibly quick second jump enabled him to challenge the point-blank shot and force a miss. When Butler grabbed the rebound and went for the bunny putback, Gobert swatted it away.
Butler shot just 3 of 10 for the game, while Adebayo was 7 for 17.
“Tonight was exactly one of those games when they came out, they were very physical, punched us in the face. But we didn’t overreact to our shots not falling,” said Gobert, who finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks. “We kept playing defense, we kept running, and we kept attacking them.”
With the 3s off-target throughout, the Jazz dug into their increasingly deep toolbox and threw a bit of everything else at the problem. It started with that defense, of course (Miami shot just 40.7% overall and 12 of 36 from deep), but also included attacking the rim (54 points in the paint), getting out in transition (20 fast-break points), and controlling the boards (10 offensive rebounds produced 13 second-chance points).
“Coach does a really good job of hammering home the little things with us, whether that’s not talking to the ref after a play, or making sure we run back on defense, or making the extra pass. And those little things add up on a night-to-night basis, and that’s how you win games,” said Niang, who posted a season-high-tying 14 points, as well as five assists. “And other teams lose games because they refuse to hold each other accountable to do those little things. And I think that’s one thing — especially after the playoff series last year, and our ups and downs — that coach has put his foot down on, being All-Stars at the little things.”
JAZZ 112, HEAT 94
Butler 3-10 8-12 15, Olynyk 3-8 1-2 7, Adebayo 7-17 0-0 14, Nunn 8-15 3-3 23, Robinson 3-6 0-0 8, Achiuwa 0-2 0-0 0, Strus 6-9 0-0 15, Iguodala 0-3 0-0 0, Okpala 0-0 0-0 0, Herro 5-16 0-0 12, Vincent 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-86 12-17 94.
Bogdanovic 7-13 3-4 19, O'Neale 3-6 2-2 8, Gobert 6-7 4-5 16, Ingles 3-7 1-2 8, Mitchell 9-21 5-7 26, Brantley 0-0 0-0 0, Favors 2-2 2-2 6, Morgan 0-0 0-2 0, Niang 5-9 0-0 14, Oni 0-4 4-4 4, Clarkson 4-15 1-1 11, Forrest 0-1 0-0 0, Harrison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-85 22-29 112.
Miami 21 21 15 37 — 94
Utah 18 29 31 34 — 112
3-Point Goals_Miami 12-36 (Nunn 4-9, Strus 3-6, Robinson 2-4, Herro 2-8, Butler 1-2, Iguodala 0-3, Olynyk 0-4), Utah 12-46 (Niang 4-6, Mitchell 3-12, Bogdanovic 2-6, Clarkson 2-9, Ingles 1-5, O’Neale 0-3, Oni 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Miami 43 (Adebayo, Olynyk 10), Utah 48 (Gobert 12). Assists_Miami 24 (Adebayo, Herro 6), Utah 26 (Ingles 6). Total Fouls_Miami 21, Utah 21. A_3,902 (18,306)