It had all already started to come apart for the Miami Heat as the minutes ticked away in the second quarter against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.
A three-point lead going into the period turned into a nine-point deficit just as the clock ticked past the two-minute mark in the period. If Miami was going to regroup and snap a five-game losing streak, it would have to do so quickly.
On the Heat’s first trip back down the floor, Josh Richardson threw a pass out of bounds. On the next, the combo guard had his pocket picked. Then Derrick Jones Jr. got a transition layup blocked from behind. Hassan Whiteside missed a pair of free throws. With eight seconds left, Rodney McGruder missed a three-pointer.
The second quarter was the summation of all the Miami’s worst offensive habits. The Heat shot 26.3 percent from the floor. It went 2 of 4 from the free-throw line. Miami committed more turnovers — eight — than made field goals — five. The Hawks closed the quarter on a 17-2 run and the Heat went into the half down 16 points to perhaps the worst team in the NBA.
“We’ve just got to put together a 48-minute game,” Richardson said after the loss Tuesday in Miami, “and I don’t think we’ve been doing that.”
This current iteration of the Heat (7-13) has made a habit of playing close games. Last season, Miami led the league with 53 clutch games, which are defined as any game within five points during the final five minutes. This year, the Heat has already played 12, tied for eighth most in the NBA. Miami plays with a thin margin for error and one lull can spell doom. In four of its five most recent losses, the Heat has unraveled largely because of one miserable quarter.
In a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 16, Miami got outscored by 16 in the second quarter. Back at home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 18, the Heat got outscored by 13 in the first quarter of a blowout loss. On the road against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 20, Miami got outscored by 15 in the fourth of a loss, then even got outscored by 12 in the third quarter of a win against Chicago Bulls on Friday.
In the past six games, Miami only managed to go a full game without being outscored by double digits in a single quarter Sunday in a loss to the Toronto Raptors. Even then, the Raptors outscored the Heat, 42-23, from the midpoint of the second quarter through the midpoint of the third.
“It’s a little bit of a snowball rolling down a hill,” coach Erik Spoelstra said at his postgame press conference Tuesday.
In the 115-113 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday, the second quarter marked a new low. The Hawks, who entered the night with the worst record in the NBA, outscored Miami by 19 points.
“They started getting out. We weren’t answering. They were attacking us first. They were hitting us first,” Richardson said. “We had one of those lulls that we can’t have and it cost us the game.”
The problem with a problem like this is there is no just one problem.
On Tuesday, the Heat committed 20 turnovers and lost. On Sunday, Miami committed seven and still lost.
On Sunday, the Heat shot just 41.1 percent from the floor and lost. On Tuesday, Miami shot better than its season average at 46 percent and still lost.
Right now, there are no easy answers for the Heat, who continues a four-game homestand Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans, and with nearly a quarter of the season gone Miami is in dire need to find some before it starts to get too late.
“It’s like our old quote: ‘Character isn’t made in a bed of roses and sunshine. Like steel, it’s forged in fire between a hammer and an anvil,’” Spoelstra said. “Right now, we’re between the hammer and the anvil. This is the NBA. You expect it just to be easy, you’ve been led down the wrong road.
“This is not what we would like, but this is when you start to develop some character, when things are not going how you want them to and it feels like you can’t turn it around, so what do you do? You come in the next day and you figure out some solutions.”