MIAMI — The Nets mounted a desperate comeback from a 14-point deficit with 8:31 left and were within two points with 9.1 seconds remaining, but a brutal turnover by Spencer Dinwiddie with 1.7 seconds left robbed them of a chance to go ahead or reach overtime.
The Heat escaped with a hard-fought 116-113 victory that gave the Nets their fourth loss in a row Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.
The Nets remained in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Magic, who suffered a one-point loss in San Antonio. But after giving up 67 points in the middle two quarters one night after yielding a season-worst 141 points to the lowly Hawks in Atlanta, the Nets found a little defensive fortitude at the end against the Heat.
“Much better, much better,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Down 14, eight minutes left to go. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we kind of got our identity back a little. I thought both sides of the ball, we tried to play the right way.”
Trailing by 12 points early in the fourth period, the Nets stopped five straight Heat possessions but failed to capitalize on the offensive end. They went scoreless in their five possessions before Jae Crowder’s layup gave the Heat their biggest lead at 96-82.
A pair of three-pointers by Taurean Prince followed by a three-pointer by Joe Harris quickly cut the Nets’ deficit to 96-91 with 7:06 left. Moments later, Jimmy Butler, who had been quiet for three quarters, scored seven of the next nine Heat points to restore a 107-98 lead.
The Nets still trailed by nine with less than three minutes left but put together a 10-2 surge, and Harris’ three-pointer with 11.4 seconds left cut the deficit to 114-113. Then they fouled Butler at the 9.1 mark. He missed the first to leave the door ajar and hit the second for a two-point edge.
Plenty of time for a miracle, but it all came crashing down when Dinwiddie overthrew a pass to Wilson Chandler into the stands with 1.7 seconds left. The play was designed to get the ball to Harris or give Dinwiddie a chance to drive as a second option.
“They did a good job switching out, broke a play,” Atkinson said. “I think Spencer saw Wilson open. The pass was just a little off-target.”
When Harris wasn’t open, Dinwiddie was facing a double-team by Butler and Bam Adebayo that took away his driving lane and left Chandler open on the right wing.
“We had a drawn-out double screen away for Joe, and they switched everything, which created a loaded side on the drive,” Dinwiddie said. “Jimmy Butler was in the help position. I was going to throw it to Wilson. Technically, right read, errant pass on my end. Got to take full responsibility for that.”
Except for that play, Dinwiddie played a terrific game, leading the Nets (26-33) with 25 points and 12 assists. Harris scored 20 points and Jarrett Allen had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Kendrick Nunn topped the Heat (38-22) with 21 points. Goran Dragic had 19, Butler added 16 and Adebayo had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Harris had the hot hand in the fourth quarter with 11 points, including 3-for-4 accuracy from three-point range, so it was natural for Atkinson to try to put the ball in his hands at the end. But Harris said the Heat read it.
“Spencer made the right read,” Harris said. “They were loaded up; it was just one of those freak plays. Spencer doesn’t turn the ball over like that. It was very uncharacteristic of him and just one of those things where it slipped out of his hands.”