MIAMI — For those who didn’t believe the Warriors were for real, perhaps a win over the defending NBA champs will change some minds.
“This is who we are,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “We’re a different team. Everybody knows it.”
Golden State celebrated on the floor of AmericanAirlines Arena after surviving with a 97-95 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. And, fittingly for such an improbable victory, the game-winning basket was made by someone nobody expected: rookie forward Draymond Green.
“Of course guys are going to go with Klay and Steph,” Green said. “I just happened to be wide open.”
In the final seconds, and with the game tied at 95, Warriors guard Jarrett Jack dribbled away the clock as the Warriors’ scorers — guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — tried to get open. All game long, Miami focused on limiting Curry. Thompson became their focus in the second half, too, after he lit up the Heat for 21 first-half points.
Paying so much attention to the Warriors’ shooters, Miami forgot about Green. But Jack, who was getting ready to shoot it, saw Green open at the last second and slipped a pass through traffic. Green, in motion while in midair, caught it and banked in the layup with nine-tenths of a second remaining.
Jack went into his now-trademark celebratory crouch as Miami called a timeout. The Heat’s last gasp, a turnaround 19-footer by LeBron James, rimmed out at the buzzer.
Golden State (15-7) is now 5-0 on the trip. The last time the Warriors pulled off such a feat, in 1978, Jackson was 13 years old.
“It doesn’t matter where you are playing,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If you win five straight on the road, that is impressive. They took control of this game. They played more consistently with more force and rhythm. They dug out a good win tonight.”
The Warriors, all game long, refused to give in to the might of the Heat, arguably the best team in the league. The goal was to stay close and pull it out at the end, and everything went according to plan.
It appeared James was about to take over midway through the fourth quarter. He drilled a 3-pointer, then stared at the Warriors bench. He followed that with a fadeaway over David Lee, putting Miami ahead 89-87.
But the Warriors got a stop that led to a Thompson fast-break dunk, retying the game. It was symbolic of how they answered every Heat surge.
The game was tied at 91 with 4:49 left. Miami went up by four after a jumper by Heat forward Chris Bosh and a runner in the lane by Dwyane Wade. The Heat led 95-91 with 3:18 left.
But the Warriors knuckled down on defense and started getting stops. The next three Miami possessions ended in a missed 3-pointer and two turnovers. Golden State tied the game on a Curry jumper followed by free throws from Lee with 1:54 left in the game.
“We got lucky on one,” Curry said. “Ray Allen was wide open. But the rest of them, we played defense like we were supposed to — shrinking the floor and contesting 3s in the corner.”
Miami didn’t score again. Over the last 3:18, the Warriors held the Heat to 0-for-5 shooting with two turnovers.
In the end, the Heat managed just 21 points in the fourth quarter. Golden State held Miami eight points below its season average, won the battle of the boards (40-38) and forced the Heat into 17 turnovers, three more than their season average.
James had 31 points and five assists, and Bosh had 21 points and 13 rebounds. But Wade had just 14 points.
“We found a way to just be able to defend them, impose our will,” Jackson said. “I’m telling you. It’s unbelievable. … We understand that if we’re going to win games, we’ve got to do it on the defensive end — especially against championship-caliber teams. … The best player in the world made some tough shots. Those are daggers that can suck the life out of you. But I’ve got a team that looks at each other and says, ‘OK, let’s go execute and give ourselves another chance.’ Defensively was where we won this ballgame.”
The Warriors are now 10-3 against teams at .500 or better. They get a day off before visiting Orlando on Friday, where they can push the streak of road wins to six.
“We feel we belong among the elite,” Jack said after totaling 20 points off the bench. “Don’t be surprised with the things we do on this nice journey.”
Green not only hit the game-winning basket, but he played well enough to earn the respect of arguably the league’s best player.
With 9:24 left in the fourth quarter, and James starting to take over, he drove to the basket and dropped in a driving hook. He got the foul and the basket, then followed with some words for Green. The Warriors rookie then walked right into James’ face and barked back.
“I’m not going to back down from anyone,” Green said. “Yes he is one of the greatest players in the world. But that’s not a license for me to back down. I’m trying to make a name for myself in this league just like he did once upon a time.”
As soon as the game ended, James went out of his way to shake Green’s hand.
“He played hard,” James said. “It was great competition out there between me and him. I have always respected him, especially in college. You could tell he really knows how to play the game. It was good to see him out there.”