Need help? Just dial up Richard­son

Spoel­stra made cor­rect call to snap 3-game los­ing streak

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Ira Win­der­man

TORONTO — The 26-point lead was al­most gone, the Mi­ami Heat were search­ing for sur­vival. Erik Spoel­stra was fran­ti­cally at­tempt­ing to dial up help.

This time the call did not go to Dwyane Wade. This time Spoel­stra di­aled 0 in­stead of 3.

Josh Richard­son took over from there. No, vic­to­ries over the Chicago Bulls are not some­thing par­tic­u­larly cel­e­brated these days. But it beats the al­ter­na­tive, es­pe­cially when the two-game trip ends Sun­day against the league­lead­ing Toronto Rap­tors.

En­ter Richard­son, who shot 5 of 6 and scored 12 points in Fri­day night’s fourth quar­ter. Three-game los­ing streak over.

“I think he un­der­stands he’s our guys, we’re go­ing to him,” Wade said across from Richard­son’s locker. “He’s pick­ing up the phone ev­ery time we call him, for

the most part. And that’s all you can ask for.”

Amid the Bulls’ fran­tic rally within four, Spoel­stra made a state­ment about a fran­chise with no op­tion but to be for­ward think­ing, even with 36-year-old Wade hav­ing made a ca­reer of such mo­ments. In­stead, the choice was to go with the youth of Richard­son, Jus­tise Winslow and Bam Ade­bayo.

“I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily do it on pur­pose,” Spoel­stra said, “but I did want to see that group fin­ish with­out Dwyane. I did not want to see him go in there and all of a sud­den every­body de­fer to him.

“We’re go­ing to need that, ob­vi­ously, be­cause Dwyane is one of the very best ever in this league clos­ing games. But J-Rich has been in this sit­u­a­tion a few times. I thought his poise and prepa­ra­tion to get to the proper spots was much bet­ter, much more de­tailed and even made some plays out of that, which was growth. And even if the shots didn’t go, they were the right place, right tempo and right ac­tions, and that’s some­thing we can build on and his con­fi­dence will only grow from this.”

Asked and an­swered, with Richard­son flat­tered by Wade’s “phone” com­ment.

“It means a lot,” he said. “These are guys that I care about, that they like play­ing with me. The fact I get that kind of praise

from one of the lead­ing guys on our team means a lot.”

Richard­son said he did not nec­es­sar­ily choose the mo­ment.

“Our team doesn’t have just a guy,” he said, “so it’s like who­ever is step­ping up, I guess. To­day my num­ber got called and I just tried to an­swer it the best I could.”

In­stead, the mo­ment chose him.

“When I came in the fourth, I knew the game was close,” he said, “a lit­tle too close. And once I hit those first cou­ple pull-ups, I knew I was rolling. I just told my­self to give it a chance.”

For­ward James John­son, an­other of the Heat’s vet­er­ans who sat while the kid stuff car­ried the Heat to vic­tory, said he ap­pre­ci­ates what the mo­ment meant to and for Richard­son.

“I think he learned a lot,” John­son said. “He learned from his mis­takes. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t sleep well if things go bad, and that’s what you want. He’s been play­ing fab­u­lous bas­ket­ball.

“Now he’s start­ing to find ways to make every­body on the team bet­ter, be­ing our lead­ing scorer.”

Richard­son led the Heat with 27 points, with no team­mate scor­ing more than 18.

“He’s been do­ing a great job all year of be­ing will­ing to take all those shots,” Wade said. “When you have suc­cess, it gives you more con­fi­dence to take them.”

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY

Josh Richard­son con­tin­ues to evolve into a lead­ing man for the Heat, gain­ing con­fi­dence from team­mates.

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