CHICAGO — For a team that put together a seven-game winning streak to get on the plus side of .500, one would think the Miami Heat have figured it out.
One would be wrong.
Even with the 8-5 record the Heat carry into Monday night’s rematch against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center, Erik Spoelstra’s team has been somewhat of a fourth-quarter disaster, not exactly what one would expect from a team that won three rounds of the playoffs as a road team last season in advancing to the NBA Finals.
Still, this season’s fourth-quarter numbers tell a stark story, such as the NBA’s:
– Second-worst net rating in the fourth quarter;
– Fourth-worst offensive rating in the fourth;
– Sixth-worst defensive rating in the fourth;
– Third-worst rebounding percentage in the fourth;
– Third-worst shooting percentage in the fourth.
As a matter of further perspective, the Heat have been outscored by an average of 4.2 points in the fourth quarter this season, second worst in the league.
By comparison the Heat have outscored the opposition by 1.9 points per game in first quarters, by 2.4 points per game in second quarters, with a negligible minus 0.2 in third periods.
And then came Saturday’s 102-97 loss to the Bulls that snapped the seven-game winning streak, when the Heat led 22-1 at the outset, but perhaps even more discouraging, led 85-75 with 8:04 to play.
And then? Then the fourth-quarter realities of this season happened.
“I feel like we got into a sort of daze, a sort of fog, and we lost the game,” said center Bam Adebayo, who went from 24 points and eight rebounds through the first three quarters to no points and two rebounds in the fourth, attempting only one shot despite playing all 12 minutes in the period.
The Bulls outscored the Heat 34-21 in the fourth.
“In the end,” forward Caleb Martin said, “we got to be able to get better at holding a lead and finishing up the game.”
To Spoelstra, it was a game lost on the defensive end, with the Bulls not only shooting 12 of 21 from the field in the fourth, but 7 of 12 from beyond the arc over those 12 minutes.
To Spoelstra, better closing defense would have allowed the Heat to delve more into remedying their late offensive struggles.
“We pride ourselves on our transition defense, and we got crossmatched where guys were open three times,” he said, with the Bulls not taking their first lead until 51.8 seconds remained and not going ahead for good until DeMar DeRozan converted an 18-foot turnaround fadeaway jumper with 21.9 seconds left.
“We still could have won this game in a little bit more of a grind-it-out fashion by getting our normal, typical defensive stops down the stretch,” Spoelstra said, “And then we would have been able to focus on our fourth-quarter execution like we have been, and tried to improve that with a win.”
By the time forward Jimmy Butler returned from his typical rest at the top of the fourth quarter, what once was a 21-point Heat lead was down to three with 5:54 left. Butler scored seven of the Heat’s final 10 points from there, including his second 3-pointer of the night, but neither that nor his game-high 25 points were enough.
“We just didn’t get no stops in the end,” Butler said. “We started out great and we’re known for doing that. Then we let it get easy for them. And they made shots, as they’ve done in the past against us and against multiple other teams. We let one get away.”
That had the Heat at DePaul University on Sunday reviewing film and practicing for the rematch with the Bulls.
“These games are great experiences for us, even when there are disappointing ends to it,” Spoelstra said. “And we just keep on moving forward. It’s a good thing we play them again.
“We did not have enough attacks or assertiveness in the paint in that fourth quarter.”
Adebayo said the video session was productive.
“I feel like they got us out of our offense, not letting us get in the paint, really forcing us to take jumpshots, which is what we viewed over film, and I feel like it’ll be a different game,” he said.
Martin’s slow go
Martin found himself still seeking his way in his second game back after missing 10 due to knee pain, closing Saturday with five points on 2-of-9 shooting in 15:12.
“It still seems like a work in progress,” said Martin, who had an emphatic third-period driving dunk after coming up short on his first four attempts from the field. “I’m trying to get my legs and my feet up under me right now, just trying to stay confident and comfortable with my body.”
Martin had played 12:16 in his first game back, Thursday’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets at Kaseya Center.
“I know the first couple of games are going to be a little frustrating, feel-out games,” he said.
First-round pick Jaime Jaquez Jr. received another NBA rookie baptism Saturday, when he was matched up against DeRozan for most of the fourth quarter, including on DeRozan’s go-ahead shot.
“I mean, I thought I contested well,” the No. 18 pick out of UCLA said. “Like Spo said, that guy’s a professional scorer. Talk about a welcome-to-the-NBA moment.”
DeRozan scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a guy I looked up to growing up,” Jaquez said. “Trying to guard him live is something completely different. That’s who he is, that’s what he does.”
The Heat issued the same injury report for Monday night as they had for Saturday night, with Tyler Herro (ankle), R.J. Hampton (knee), Nikola Jovic (G League), Jamal Cain (G League) and Cole Swider (G League) all out.