(San Antonio, TX) — For the first time since their embarrassing 4-1 destruction in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat traveled to San Antonio to do battle with the Spurs in a much anticipated preseason contest. Coming off an encouraging 113 to 108 victory over the Golden State Warriors after an ugly 0-4 start, Miami wanted to go for two wins in a row for the first time in the 2014 preseason.
After losing their opening game to a small-time German Basketball League squad in Alba Berlin, San Antonio hasn’t fared much better in the preseason—they’ve dropped two of three, and elected to rest their starters in a previous game against the Phoenix Suns. With that in mind, the Spurs don’t seem to care all too much about the preseason.
In their last game against Phoenix, Head Coach Gregg Popovich didn’t even travel with the team, and in response to a question posed by Ira Winderman regarding the Heat’s personnel changes, Popovich replied, “It’s the preseason, I’m not there.”
Notorious for resting his players, Coach Popovich did allow Tim Duncan to start, but Manu Ginobili came off the bench, thus allowing reserves like Danny Green and Corey Joseph to put in work.
After an atrocious performance in the NBA Finals, Mario Chalmers finally got the starting nod from the Heat coaching staff and was certainly looking to put on a better performance since his last time in Texas. He and Norris Cole formed an undersized backcourt early in the contest for Miami and helped propel Miami to an early well-balanced attack. Early on, it was apparent Miami preferred Cole playing the one-spot, and they opted to use ‘Rio as a spot-up shooter rather than let him play as primary catalyst.
All five starters for Miami scored in the first quarter, and it was a beautiful in-and-out attack as the Heat moved the ball effectively and knocked down their looks even as the shot clock ticked to its waning seconds. At the close of the first quarter, Miami wrestled momentum away from San Antonio and jumped to a 10-point lead off of a 16-3 run. In limited time, former University of Connecticut Husky Shabazz Napier put up a quick 10 points in the first quarter as he scored on a mix of beautiful off-the-dribble moves and reaped the rewards of the free-throw line. Napier finished with 14 at halftime, and he was the game’s leader scorer at that point in the game.
On the other side, the Spurs hoped to receive balanced scoring from their rookies as well, but they couldn’t match Miami’s explosive first half outburst. UCLA product Kyle Anderson led the Spurs in scoring 10 early points, but Providence’s NCAA tournament hero Bryce Cotton had a miserable first half going 1-of-5 from the field with three points. Anderson would go on to score seven more points in the second half, and he finished as the Spurs second leading scorer for the game as veteran swingman Marco Belinelli edged him with 18 to finish the bout.
The Spurs battled back to outscore Miami 27 to 21 in the third quarter, but the momentum swung back in Miami’s favor late in the fourth. After trading huge baskets, overtime was forced, and it would be the Heat’s third overtime contest of the preseason.
“We just had to stay composed. We’ve been in overtimes, a lot of them this preseason,” Shabazz Napier said in the postgame with Sun Sports Jason Jackson, “Not everything is going to go our way, but you just have to stay composed.”
Despite the poor performances earlier in preseason, it was apparent Miami’s youngsters would remain unfazed.
Overtime was a grinding war of attrition, but huge baskets from Napier and a three-point connection with fellow rookie Tyler Johnson on a game-defining bucket would go on to seal the deal for Miami after several trips to the charity stripe where ‘Bazz was 12 of 14 on the night. Napier looked just like his old heroic self late in overtime as he finished as the game’s leading scorer with 25 points, four assists, and two steals.
Johnson and rookie Andre Dawkins contributed 17 and 16 points respectively; both looked very poised and made big plays down the stretch to keep Miami competitive. Johnson was especially solid and Napier noticed remarking,
“[Johnson] kept his composure, and he went out there and did his job.”
On a night where the young guys got a lot of burn, it was clear all of the rookies were appreciative of any and all opportunities.
“I understood any opportunity I get I’m going to do my best and give everything I got,” Napier said of his generous playing time. “I always want to give myself the best chance.”
Miami defeats the Spurs 111 to 108, and they look to take on the Houston Rockets at home this upcoming Tuesday.