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Monday, May 23, 2011
Heat pull away late, win another close game

By Tom Haberstroh

After a loss back in 2009-10, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey once said, "Good teams don't win close games -- they avoid them."

If you're looking for a one-sentence summary of the Heat's playoff run this season, look no further.

The Heat have found themselves in close games during the fourth quarter, but they have stomped on their opponents' necks and pulled away late, not allowing the game come down to a final possession. If that's the measure of a good team as Morey says, the Heat are not just a good team, but a great one.

We've hit on this before: the Heat are winning close games even if the final score isn't close. Sunday's Game 3 was just another example. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer's fourth quarter free throw cut the Heat lead to just four points, 78-74, with 6:39 remaining in the game. Instead of letting the game go down to the wire, the Heat subsequently went on a 7-0 run and pulled out a 96-85 victory.

Once again, the Heat were executing down the stretch, and their opponents failed to counter. Of the Heat's 10 wins in the playoffs, eight were close games in the fourth quarter and the Heat ran away with it.
That's eight wins by more than five points when the game was within five points under seven minutes to go.

Entering the postseason, one of the knocks on the Heat was that they couldn't win close games. After all, they finished the regular season with a 6-14 record in games decided by five points or fewer and they had shot 1-for-19 when tied or trailing by three points or fewer in the final 10 seconds of the game. These two statistics served as a testament to their late-game incompetence.

On Monday morning, the Heat stand at 6-15 in games decided by five points or fewer. Do you still think they can't win close games? Of course not. We now know how irrelevant that statistic is as a measurement of clutch ability.

As they have all postseason, the Heat made big plays down the stretch on Sunday while their opponent locked up against the Heat's defense.

And each clutch win over the Bulls feels especially sweet for the Heat because during the regular season, the Bulls were the ones pulling out the clutch wins, thanks to Derrick Rose's late-game heroics. The Heat famously lost three extremely close games against the Bulls in the regular season, with the final defeat bringing some Heat players to tears behind closed doors. After winning that Mar. 6 game 87-86, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said simply, "We have guys who can close."

Here in the playoffs, the Heat are the guys who have been closing it out.