Despite a remarkable run to finish the 2016-17 NBA season, the Miami Heat fell one win shy of the playoffs. It was an unfortunate ending to one of the better stories in the league this year — the Heat bouncing back from a brutal, injury-plagued 11-30 start to what felt like a lost season by transforming into the East’s stingiest defense and No. 3 offense after mid-January — and it left Miami coach Erik Spoelstra feeling short-changed and disappointed.
It made plenty of other people happy, though. Not just in Indianapolis and Chicago, but in Boston, Cleveland, the Bay Area and every other NBA city, too.
At least, that is how — perfectly, delightfully — Dion Waiters sees it.
Waiters published a piece on Tuesday morning at The Players Tribune under the hopefully-soon-to-be-award-winning headline, “The NBA Is Lucky I’m Home Doing Damn Articles.” In it, the seven-year NBA veteran guard details the awe he felt upon entering his first meeting with Heat team president Pat Riley as a free agent last summer (“He’s sitting there looking like De Niro in ‘Casino'”), how a pre-teen Dion earned the nicknames “Headache” and “Google Me,” and some of the heartbreak and loss he’s endured in just 25 years of life. It’s a fun, engaging piece by a player who seemed to fully come into his own in his first year in Miami; I recommend going and reading it in full.
Here and now, though, let’s take a moment to highlight Waiters’ recollection of the moment that everything clicked into place for him, and the Heat, during the 2016-17 season — his Jan. 23 game-winning buzzer-beater to knock off the league-leading Golden State Warriors, and subsequent B-boy stance celebration. Let’s do this because it is just as great three months later as it was in the moment, and because it’s even better hearing about it from Waiters himself than it was watching it from afar.
As Waiters explains, two weeks before that fateful night, the Warriors had beaten Miami in the Bay, battling a game Heat team that had just gotten Waiters back from a groin injury that kept him out for more than a month, and that was starting to develop a little bit of continuity. After the game, Waiters told Warriors star Kevin Durant, his former teammate and one-on-one rival with the Oklahoma City Thunder, that he believed the Heat were about to go on a long winning streak.
Durant countered by reminding him that Golden State would be visiting South Florida later that month. Waiters stood by his words. Durant laughed.
“We gave ’em everything they could handle. We weren’t scared. I saw right away how Kev was playing me, like he was daring me to shoot the ball. I told him, ‘Bro, I’m feeling good. You see the last four games? Y’all in for a long night.’”
“We’re talking trash like we’re playing 1-on-1 back in OKC.”
“Fourth quarter, 10 seconds left. Tie game. I got the ball in my hands with the game on the line, and I already knew what was gonna happen. F*** an overtime, let’s get up outta here.”
“What’s the analytics on that?”
“That’s a W.”
“Then I hit ’em with the pose.”
“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s that mean?’”
“It don’t mean nothing.”
“It’s just the Philly in me.”
It was the Heat’s fourth straight win. They’d follow that with nine more — with Waiters drilling another game-icing pull-up bomb in Brooklyn two nights later — to set an NBA record for the longest winning streak ever by a sub-.500 team.
The Heat had their stumbles down the stretch — home losses to the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets in the final two weeks of teh season chief among them — but the Heat still posted the East’s best record after Jan. 15. And had Waiters not missed the final 13 games of the year with a severe ankle sprain — had he been available to help turn Miami’s 7-6 closing kick into 8-5, or 9-4, or whatever — who knows where he and the Heat would be right now?
Alas, that’s not how it worked out. The Heat fell short, the Pacers got swept, the Bulls are in trouble and Dion Waiters is home, watching it all and planning his next move. (Which might be staying in Miami, but, given the uncertainty surrounding several other Heat free agents and Riley’s roster-building plans, might also be pulling up stakes for a richer deal elsewhere.)
That’s a bummer for those of us who loved watching Dion cook and watching the Heat grind teams out night after night from January through April. At least we, like the rest of the NBA’s postseason denizens, can count ourselves lucky that it created the opportunity for Dion to start blogging. The world’s a better, richer place with this particular dispatch from Waiters Island in it.
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