For the Miami Heat players, it was just another day at work. For coach Erik Spoelstra, it was another stressful situation.
On Saturday, the Heat won for the 10th time in 11 tries in games within three points in the final minute. They outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers 117-116 in overtime at AmericanAirlines Arena, improving to 24-8 and grabbing the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
The team has taken a liking to playing under these circumstances but Spoelstra is still adjusting to the hair-raising moments.
“Even though we made some mistakes at the end of regulation, I think guys in some twisted way really enjoy these kind of games that push you into overtime,” Spoelsta said. “Even though for the head coach, it drives him crazy.”
The Sixers held possession and a two-point lead with 25 seconds left before Jimmy Butler split a pair of free throws. After the Heat recorded a steal, Tyler Herro hit a 3-pointer that put Miami ahead by two. The Sixers forced overtime on a put-back basket by Ben Simmons off a Josh Richardson missed free throw. In overtime, Butler, who finished with 25 points, hit the go-ahead free throw before Sixers forward Tobias Harris missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
It was yet another strong showing in the closing moments by the Heat.
“We developed even more grit and mental toughness that we’ve had before and I think that’s one of the stronger qualities of this group to be able to persevere, stay the course, exhibit mental stability throughout the course of a long game when things are going up and down,” Spoelstra said. “Then you have to have guys that rise to the occasion. We have several of the guys that become different in those clutch moments.”
It was the second straight night the Heat held on at the end. They defeated the Indiana Pacers 113-112 in the first of back-to-back games at home.
“It was crazy,” guard Goran Dragic said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. This team never gives up. We always fight back. Sometimes, we’re going to be able to win. Sometimes, not. It was a hell of a game, two games in two days.”
Herro, who finished with 16 points against Philadelphia, credited the late-game grit to Butler. He has brought a late-game toughness since being acquired in a trade from the Sixers in July.
“We’re winning and that’s one,” Herro said. “Jimmy, he’s such a good leader. He leads us and the rest of us are on the court following him. The coaches make sure we don’t give up. We fight to the last second. We were down in that game right there by two and we came away and made a big play at the end. We came away with the win.”