April 4 (UPI) — Josh Richardson led the Miami Heat to a 101-98 win with two blocks in the final two seconds against the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
The Heat (42-36) clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with the triumph.
“It took us a year to grind and make amends for last year,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, referring to last season’s 41-41 finish. “We put everything we had into it and we were one game short. We were able to finally get that check mark next to our name.”
Spoelstra’s 2016-2017 squad finished as the ninth-best team in the conference, barely missing the postseason.
Miami needed to use grit and hustle – in favor of knockdown shooting – to get by the Hawks (22-56) Tuesday night. The Heat hit just 8-of-33 shots from downtown.
The home squad had a 69-61 advantage with 7:13 remaining in the third quarter, but empty possessions and two late 3-pointers from the Hawks tied the score at 78-78 going into the fourth frame.
The Hawks took the lead with a Tyler Dorsey 3-pointer one minute into the quarter and pushed their advantage to 89-80 on Mike Muscala’s trey two minutes later.
Atlanta held onto the lead until the Heat finally mounted its comeback. The Hawks went up 98-90 on DeAndre’ Bembry’s 3-pointer with 3:07 remaining. Then the Heat went on an 11-0 run. Hassan Whiteside highlighted the scoring streak with a tip-in for a 99-98 advantage with 58.5 seconds remaining. Richardson put the game on ice by making both of his free throws in the final seconds.
But Richardson’s defensive presence was what really put the Heat in the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-2016 season. The third-year guard blocked Hawks guard Damion Lee with 1.3 seconds remaining before rejecting John Collins’s buzzer-beating attempt at the end of regulation.
“I was just locked in,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t really worried about anything else. I wasn’t even really worried about the playoffs at the end. I was just worried about winning today.”
Goran Dragic led all scorers with 22 points. He also had 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals for the Heat. Richardson had nine points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Whiteside put up 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
“We really wanted this game for us and for our fans because we wanted to clinch the playoffs at home,” Dragic said.
Collins led the Hawks with 19 points, while Dorsey chipped in 18 points in the loss. The Hawks had five players with at least 13 points.
The Heat and Hawks tipoff again at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
“This is just the path of this team,” Spoelstra said. “It has to be written like this. So we’re in, but hopefully we’re not stopping.”