To a man, the Heat will tell you that this threepeat business has been more difficult than they can imagine.
Once again, the defending champions found out just how difficult against a game Minnesota Timberwolves team at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday evening.
Mario Chalmers had opportunities to decide the outcome in regulation play and again the first overtime period, then LeBron James had a chance to tie the score late in the second extra session. After all three free throw attempts failed to drop, the Heat finally did in a double-overtime, 122-121 loss that was as frustrating as any they had suffered this season.
“We had our chances,” head coach Erik Spoelstra lamented afterward. “Either a key stop, one less turnover, a free throw here or there . . . We had our opportunities, but they made one more play than we did.”
Yet the Heat had to wonder whether they still had something left in their bag at the end. Once again, James did not take the final shot in the fourth quarter and the overtime periods, a fact that didn’t sit well with him.
“For me, it’s a little frustrating, being in this position again and not being able to get the last shot,” admitted James, who was virtually unstoppable with 34 points and four steals. “It happened in the Indiana game (last week) and it happened tonight as well.
“I’m over it right now, but right after the game, I was a little frustrated by it. You give me a second, you give me two seconds, and I feel that I can get a good look at the basket, especially when you look at the other side and Kevin Love gets three of four looks at it to make a game-winner.”
The Heat can only hope the defeat won’t be a costly one as well. Instead of a one-game advantage, they remained mere percentage points ahead of the Indiana Pacers in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The top dogs will meet for the final time in the regular season in Miami on Friday night.
“I let it go, man. I’m over it,” said Chris Bosh, who contributed 24 points and several clutch shots down the stretch. “We’ve been doing this for over a month now. (The Pacers) lose, we lose, we win, they win . . . I mean, I just take it as it goes.”
Except for the two loud hiccups, Chalmers turned in one of his most productive games of the season. He scored a season-high 24 points and added six assists.
“I let my team down by missing those free throws,” said Chalmers, who connected on his eight other attempts. “I missed the two most important ones.”
Timberwolves swingman Corey Brewer sank the first of two free throws to break a 121-all tie with one second left in the second overtime. While the Heat considered the foul call to be a bit tacky late in a close game, Norris Cole appeared to ride under Brewer while he was airborne near the basket.
“You just want to see the players decide it at the end,” Spoelstra said. “I didn’t get a good look at the replay. I just saw (Brewer) shoot a circus shot back (over his head). But still, we had many more opportunities to close that game out regardless of what those three (officials) called.”
When ex-Heat center Ronny Turiaf scored on a dunk to give his team a 93-86 advantage with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Heat were in dire straights. But Bosh and Chalmers combined for nine points to trigger a late charge that sent the game into overtime.
Dwyane Wade could have made a difference, but a sore right hamstring sidelined him once again. Ray Allen returned after a five-game layoff and scored 10 points.
Lowe paced the winners with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
“If you can’t get up for those guys, they you may as well go home,” Love said.
As the Heat know by now, the size of the target has a lot to do with the magnitude of the challenge ahead of them.