As you might have expected, given that one team’s vying for playoff positioning and the other is on the second game of a back-to-back and hasn’t had anything to play for since [refers to notes] 2014?, the Miami Heat didn’t have much trouble at all with the Phoenix Suns on Monday. They got whatever they want on offense, with Hassan Whiteside feasting on Phoenixu’s overmatched front line; Miami led for the final 43 minutes of game time, by double figures for the entire second half, and by as many as 28 before finishing off a 125-103 win.
And man, did Justise Winslow finish it off in style:
With the Heat less than 24 seconds away from victory, Winslow dribbled on the left wing near half-court. Oddly, with 10 seconds still left on the shot clock, he attacked, driving away from a screen by teammate Luke Babbitt and blowing past rookie guard Davon Reed into the paint. He leapt to throw down a dunk, only to see Suns big man Marquese Chriss setting up to meet him in the air in front of the rim.
This was an admirable decision by young Mr. Chriss. But it was a bad one.
This is the face of a man who is legit insulted they jumped pic.twitter.com/KJAJrWiwIB
— Wobbazz Napier (@World_Wide_Wob) March 6, 2018
These two guys after that Justise Winslow slam have me pic.twitter.com/ddfEtqGLrE
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 6, 2018
The emphatic throwdown put a perfect cap on a strong night for Winslow, who finished with 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting to go with 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two turnovers in 31 minutes of work off the bench. The third-year Duke product has come on some since the All-Star break, shooting well over 50 percent from the floor and from 3-point land over his last five games while continuing to chip in on the glass, provide complementary playmaking and handle multiple defensive assignments for a Heat team that’s now won four of five to improve to 34-30, good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Winslow hasn’t had quite the breakout season some (read: me) believed he might in his third year, struggling somewhat to find rhythm and consistency as he tried both to work his way back from a season-ending shoulder injury and crack a Heat rotation that had moved on and solidified without him. Pat Riley has given Erik Spoelstra plenty of toys to play with on the wing (Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, pre-injury Dion Waiters) and up front (Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, rookie Bam Adebayo), and at times that’s left Winslow — who’s shooting a career-best 43.4 percent from 3-point range (albeit on a low number of attempts) but only 41.1 percent from the field overall — on the outside looking in, coming off the bench in half of his 50 appearances and averaging a career-low 23.5 minutes per game.
“His role has changed probably more than anybody on that roster. He hasn’t made any excuses for it. I wouldn’t expect him to,” Spoelstra recently said of the 21-year-old Winslow. “Been a backup point guard, he’s been a backup three man, been a starting four, he’s been as starting three for us. He just wants to be out there and be able to help and contribute. I like it when he’s aggressive on the attack.”
So, in the closing seconds of a big win, Winslow decided he’d give his coach something to like. His teammates certainly seemed to, according to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald:
“I give the dunk an 8, the celebration a 10. No, the celebration was a 9,” Josh Richardson said.
“It was nice. It’s not going in my top 10. But it definitely was nice,” [Dwyane] Wade said. “It was sweet because we were talking about it before the game – how his hands were small. He was telling me I’m going to dunk one. I said ‘Don’t worry about it.’ So it was cool to see him do that and kind of have that nice moment of a celebration at the end. He’s been playing well lately man. I love to see his aggressiveness out there on the floor. It’s really helping our team.”
Winslow’s do-everything game can help these Heat; Riley has long said he believes Justise can be something like Miami’s version of Draymond Green, and his recent uptick has come in part to being used more in that vein. But even if you’re doing all the little things that help get teams to the playoffs, it’s still nice to show you can do the BIG LOUD THINGS that help get people’s attention, too.
“Everybody wants to score man, regardless of what they say,” Winslow recently told Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post. “The ‘winning plays’ thing is true, definitely true. But everybody wants to score. It’s nice when you’re able to do that, and other stuff, too.”
Maybe you didn’t know that Winslow could do “other stuff” like straight-up Thesz press his way through a shot-blocker, cock the hammer and call down some thunder. Clearly, Marquese Chriss didn’t. Now we all know, and we’re all better for it. (Well, maybe Marquese isn’t. Oh, well.)
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