They’ll take it: Tyler Johnson’s big night keeps Heat afloat

MIAMI — With the Miami Heat dealing with the absences of Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, head coach Erik Spoelstra was left with a motley crew of remaining players to complement Dwyane Wade down the stretch.

Literally and figuratively, Tyler Johnson rose above the rest to help rescue the Heat’s fortunes for a 114-109 overtime victory amid a dogfight for the last two playoff spots in the East.

"It was definitely a must win when you look at the standings and how tight seven through 10 is," Johnson said. "Every game is important. Tonight was considered a must win."

When he wasn’t skying high to grab rebounds in traffic or scrapping down low for loose balls, Johnson was pouring in baskets from all areas of the court for 24 points, six rebounds, and six assists in a career-high 44 minutes. His point total two points shy of his career-high set five days ago against the Phoenix Suns. He scored five points in overtime to pair up with Wade to power the Heat’s third straight home victory.

Six of the nine available Heat players reached double figures in points, and Michael Beasley along with Wade raised their games after halftime to help Miami overcome a 16-point deficit. But it was Johnson’s 3-pointer in overtime that essentially sealed the win and sent renewed life into the Heat’s playoff hopes. As the Kings called timeout after the shot went in, Johnson erupted with a triumphant scream.

"It was the heat of the moment, just in the game," he said. "I felt like it was a big shot. It was just one of those things where it’s kind of like an out-of-body experience for a second until you kind of come back and you’re in the timeout and you can re-gather yourself. But in the moment, you’re just kind of lost in it."

His play is just the latest example of a Heat bench player eager to prove his worth. Whether it’s been Whiteside, Henry Walker, Beasley or now Johnson, the Heat have benefited from quality production from players who weren’t on their opening-day roster but have been compelling Spoelstra to play them heavily.

"The last couple of games I’ve played a lot of minutes," Johnson said. "Going from not playing a whole lot to all of a sudden playing 30 minutes and then 40 minutes, it’s just a little bit for your body to adjust."

Heat vs. Kings

Johnson has battled back from being one of the final cuts after training camp to stints with the Sioux Falls Skyforce and a pair of 10-day contracts to carving out a role on the team. In many ways, he’s a quintessential Heat player, and Spoelstra has become a big fan.

"We’ve been using this term ‘grit,’ " Spoelstra said. "If you look up the word grit, you would probably see Tyler’s picture along with a few other guys on that team. He has earned everything he has gotten in his life. He has put in a tremendous amount of time behind the scenes in our development program."

Wade was the final player standing Saturday out of what was projected to be the Heat’s starting lineup this season. Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts have been lost for the season, and Norris Cole was traded away. Not much has gone the Heat’s way this season, but Wade needed all the help he could get on this night.

"There are a lot of nights this season that just don’t make sense," he said. "When there are nights like this and it ends the way it did, we’ll take it. The way Tyler played for us tonight was huge."

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