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Analysis: Durant’s hot hand sparks Warriors to 120-118 win over Miami Heat

The All-Star forward scored 39 points on Sunday evening, helping the Warriors battle back from a 19-point deficit to earn the victory.

NBA: Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After their win over the Phoenix Suns, the Warriors returned to Oracle Arena to play one of their final three games before the All-Star Break. The Warriors welcomed the Miami Heat for their only visit to the Bay Area this season on Sunday night. The game ended up resembling Friday night’s contest against the Suns. Once again, the Warriors fell behind early and had to battle back. The outcome was the same as Friday night’s game as well. The Warriors were able to come back and hang on, overcoming a few late-game miscues to get the 120-118 win.

Durant’s dominance on display

Stephen Curry (25 points, 5/10 from three-point range) and Klay Thompson (29 points, 6/13 from beyond the arc) both played well on Sunday night, overcoming rough first quarters to put together quality games. But it was Kevin Durant who won this game for the Warriors. The Warriors struggled for much of the game from behind the three-point line. As a team, the Warriors shot 13/36 from beyond the arc, going 5/19 from three-point range in the first half.

NBA: Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors
Curry’s game had its ups and downs but he ended it in a great way—swapping jerseys with Dwyane Wade.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

So the Warriors turned to Durant in that part of the floor where he is so special and so deadly efficient—the mid-range and at the basket. On two-point field goals against the Heat, Durant shot 15/17. That kind of efficiency allowed the Warriors to stay close when those outside shots weren’t falling and to take the lead once those long-distances attempts started to drop.

NBA: Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors
The Heat couldn’t stop Kevin Durant as he pushed the Warriors to the win on Sunday night.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Durant showed off one of his other great skills in Sunday night’s game, getting to the free-throw line 10 times. Normally that would usually mean an automatic 10 points for Durant but it was an abnormally poor night from the charity stripe for him. Durant went 6/10 from the free-throw line, costing the Warriors a few points that they could have used in such a close game.

The free-throw misses were one of the very few negatives from Durant’s game against the Heat. Durant scored 39 points in total, the 18th time this season he’s scored 30+ points. Durant, like most of the Warriors, did struggle from three-point range on Sunday night. Durant was 0/5 until, with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter, he finally knocked one down.

Durant’s three-pointer didn’t seal the win. DeMarcus Cousins took care of that by grabbing the offensive rebound off a missed three-pointer from Durant, getting fouled, and sinking his free throws. But the reason the Warriors were in that position, why they were able to win his game after doing plenty of things to give it away, was because of Durant. All 11 of Durant’s fourth-quarter points came in the final 4 minutes of the game, assuring the Warriors that they would earn the victory.

Falling behind, coming back once again

Like their game against the Suns, the Warriors found themselves facing an early deficit. The Heat lead by as many as 19 points in the first quarter, racing past a sloppy and sluggish Warriors team. Though the Warriors didn’t have quite as many turnovers as they did against the Suns, they seemed to come at especially inopportune moments and result in points for the Heat.

The Heat were also able to jump out to that big lead because of their offensive rebounding. The Heat had 9 of their 21 offensive rebounds in the first quarter, resulting in 9 second-chance points. After that first quarter, the Warriors did a much better job keeping the Heat off of the offensive glass, but the visiting team’s size and physicality still gave the Warriors trouble.

The 21 offensive rebounds the Warriors gave up against the Heat were the most any team has posted against them. Hassan Whiteside proved to be challenge for Cousins, grabbing 9 offensive rebounds while making his presence felt in the paint. Bam Adebayo came off the bench to grab 4 offensive rebounds of his own.

NBA: Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors
DeMarcus Cousins had his hands full with Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside on Sunday night.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds weren’t enough for the Warriors to deal with, they had to deal with a Heat team that seemingly couldn’t miss from long distance. The Heat are a middling team when it comes to three-point shooting, making them at about a 35% rate coming into this game against the Warriors. On Sunday night, they 41.9% from long distance, attempting 43 shots from beyond the arc (they average around 33 attempts per game from three-point range this season).

NBA: Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors
The Warriors left Josh Richardson open too much on Sunday night and it almost cost them the game.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night’s game was a special one for Josh Richardson. The Heat forward scored a career-high 37 points against the Warriors while making a career-high 8 three-pointers. The Warriors didn’t defend Richardson as closely as they should have, but plenty of those makes were just Richardson having one of those nights.

It wasn’t just Richardson who gave the Warriors trouble. Dion Waiters scored 24 points in just his 16th game of the season. Justice Winslow scored 22 points against the Warriors, going a surprising 4/9 from long distance.

Even Dwyane Wade, playing his most-likely last road game against the Warriors, came off the bench to score 10 points, including 4 in the fourth quarter to help the Heat keep things close. In a very nice touch, the Warriors played a video montage to honor Wade, who is playing the last season of his 16-year career, in the first quarter.

This is the second game in a row where the Warriors have come out playing poorly and letting an inferior opponent race out to a big lead. It is a little bit troublesome, not what you want to see out of this Warriors team. It’s also almost the All-Star Break and the Warriors might be forgiven for letting their foot off the gas just a little bit. But even with all these things seemingly going against them, the Warriors still found a way to come back from that substantial early deficit and hold on late to get the victory.

Jerebko brings important energy off the bench.

The Warriors needed an infusion of energy off the bench to get going and make their way out of that enormous early hole. They got that energy from the play of Jonas Jerebko. Much like he did in that Suns game, Jerebko’s presence on the court made the Warriors more focused and had them playing both more under control and with more energy. Playing 12 and a half minutes, Jerebko scored 7 points, all coming in that first quarter as the Warriors tried to keep up with a very motivated Heat squad.

But where Jerebko’s impact really showed up was in +/-, where he was a team-leading +18. Between Jerebko and Kevon Looney, who was a +14 coming off the bench, the Warriors found that little extra charge that enabled them to overcome that rough start and pull out the win.

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