Andrew Van Ginkel returned an interception for a touchdown for the Dolphins in win at Washington.

Pressure Point: Dolphins showcase depth as stand-ins stand out in rout

No surprise that the Miami Dolphins easily dispatched another of the lesser teams that they have made a habit of bullying this season.

This time the patsy was the overmatched Commanders and the outcome was never in doubt on the way to a 45-15 rout Sunday at Washington. It boosted Miami to 9-3 — for the first time since 2001 — and extended the Dolphins’ lead in the AFC East to three games over idle Buffalo (bye week).

It was an opportunity for Miami stars to add to their impressive resume of eye-opening accomplishments. Notably, Tyreek Hill became the first Dolphins receiver with two touchdown receptions 60 yards or longer since Paul Warfield in 1971.

More on the numbers later. But what stood out most from a Dolphins standpoint was the way it showcased their depth with a number of players excelling as stand-ins for injured starters.

The poster boy for that was Andrew Van Ginkel, who stepped into the void created by Jaelan Phillips’ season-ending Achilles injury and turned in a high-energy performance. Van Ginkel jumped a short pass by Sam Howell and turned it into six points. He also flushed Howell into a sack.

Emmanuel Ogbah, who also saw his role increase due to Phillips’ injury, had one of the three sacks on Howell, his fifth of the season.

Baker injured in collision with teammate

Safety Brandon Jones also had a productive day filling in for Jevon Holland (knee). Unfortunately, in making a touchdown-saving tackle, Jones inadvertently wiped out teammate Jerome Baker, injuring the linebacker’s left knee.

Duke Riley stepped in for Baker and immediately made his presence felt, matching David Long Jr. with a team-high seven combined tackles (four of them assists).
While it is a tribute to the depth of talent, the accumulating of injuries is concerning. Once again the offensive line was affected.

Star left tackle Terron Armstead, who always seems to be dealing with multiple issues, added another when he exited with an ankle injury. Robert Hunt, who returned at right guard, aggravated his hamstring and was unable to finish.

As has has often been the case throughout the season, the shuffled line gave a credible showing and allowed no sacks.

Achane returns with strong performance

Meanwhile, rookie running back De’Von Achane, returned from aggravating a knee injury two weeks ago and had a game-high 72 rushing yards (4.3-yard average) and two touchdowns. He also had three catches for 30 yards.

Hill, with 157 yards on five receptions continued on pace to become the first receiver with 2,000 yards in a season. The Cheetah pushed his season total to 1,481 with five games remaining. He’s averaging 123.4 yards a game.

With those TD catches of 78 and 60 yards pushing his season total to 12 and helping Miami streak to a 31-7 lead at halftime, Hill is building a strong case as a non-quarterback MVP candidate.

It also produced another innovative touchdown celebration.

Tua Tagovailoa bounced back from a mistake-marred performance against the Jets with one of his better statistical performances of the season, completing 75 percent of his passes (18 of 24) , a 141.0 passer rating, the two TD tosses to Tyreek and no turnovers (he had two interceptions including a pick-6 and lost a fumble against the Jets).

In addition, Running back Raheem Mostert had a 2-yard run for his league-leading 14th rushing touchdown. He’s two away from tying Ricky Williams’ Dolphins season record.
Except for injury concerns, it was another feel-good win for a Dolphins team chugging toward their first AFC East crown since 2008.

Curiously, they still don’t have a win over a team with a record above .500 — the Broncos were 6-5 before a 22-17 loss to Houston on Sunday. But with home dates the next two weeks against the 4-8 Titans and Jets, they may have the division sewn up before the closing stretch against the Cowboys, Ravens and defending division champion Bills.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: T.J. McConnell and Bruce Brown extinguish the Heat

Jaime Jaquez Jr. had a rookie night, the infamous turd quarter returned, two players went down, and defense was an afterthought in the Heat’s loss at home to the up-and-coming Pacers. In Bam Adebayo’s absence, Orlando Robinson and Kevin Love contributed 30 points and six rebounds, and the Heat’s frontcourt still got outworked. Miami’s record in games decided by three points or fewer is 2-1.

Haywood Highsmith was the first wounded with back spasms fewer than three minutes in and was replaced by Caleb Martin.

In the opening quarter, Duncan Robinson unleashed two triples and an inside floater. Kevin Love was the set-up man with outlet passes and feeds to cutters from the key. And Martin added six points.

But Indiana’s reserves got anything they wanted because the Heat couldn’t stay in front of the ball or slow its transition attack. Aside from that, Miami over-helped defending pick and roll, allowing multiple paint entries and conceding the corners a few times in the zone.

Who needs Tyrese Haliburton? Indiana’s T.J. McConnell turned into prime Kyle Lowry, attacking off the dribble and dishing to open cutters plus snipers.

Through the first half, the game was tied at 65, but the Pacers’ bench accumulated 44 points to the Heat’s 34. Most problematic for the hosts was permitting 42 points in the square on 72% shooting.

Subsequently, the Heat had one of its worst defensive quarters of the season, allowing 41 points on over 76% of the Pacers’ tries. Ten of those points for Indiana came on the break as triples or feeds to Obi Toppin or Buddy Hield. In the halfcourt, Aaron Nesmith powered past Josh Richardson, too.

If it weren’t for Jimmy Butler taking over for Miami in the third, it would have been an ugly beatdown. He blew past defenders off the dribble on the baseline, maneuvered the post and assisted three times.

Miami entered the fourth quarter down 98-106, and it let go of the rope further. The Pacers logged 14 of 17 field goals despite five of coach Erik Spoelstra’s trusted seven recording heavy minutes. Richardson played three minutes because of a left knee contusion, which left him walking carefully in the locker room after the game.

McConnell found the open big in the middle and outside. And Brown dusted JJJ on the baseline for a layup and hit two trifectas.

It’s not often that the Heat’s offense is in top gear while it’s run off the court, but that was the case Saturday. Indiana scored 132 points per 100 half-court plays and 90% on looks at the rim. It was also the highest field goal percentage an opponent has ever registered against the Heat in a game (65.6).

In Heat history, the squad has given up at least 60% of baskets 22 times. Its record in those matches is 1-21.

At the postgame presser, Spoelstra was displeased with Miami’s ability to stay in front of the ball. He said it was “one of our worst ball containment games of the season.”

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The Pat Riley series, part 3: No end in sight

The Knicks were furious and wanted three first-round draft picks plus $3 million in compensation for Pat Riley abandoning his post. But it settled on one FRP and a million in restitution, letting him and the Heat off easy. For context, in 2000 (five years later), the Minnesota Timberwolves tampered and were reprimanded by the league for salary cap circumvention on Joe Smith’s deal. The penalty was losing five first-round picks (got one back by appeal) with a $3.5 million fee.

Publicly, then Garden president Dave Checketts downplayed a power struggle, but it existed. The Knicks later used the Heat’s selection on Walter McCarty, a 6-foot-10 power forward, in the 1996 Draft, who played 37 games in New York.

Riley was introduced as the Heat’s fourth coach in its brief seven-year existence aboard the Imagination, Micky Arison’s Carnival Cruise ship docked at the Port of Miami. At his presser, he smoothly expressed regret over his New York departure. “I feel badly for the way things went down and what has been said and reported. A lot of people in New York feel like I abandoned them, and that’s just not right. This was a case of standing on principles…”

He was still fuming about his portrayal during the season the next time he saw his ex-colleague and NBA insider Peter Vecsey. When Riley caught up with Vecsey outside of the Heat’s locker room, there was a heated confrontation in front of current vice president of media relations Tim Donovan and a police officer over his print comments, labeling the coach the quitter within, mocking his book The Winner Within.

Riley’s first order of business was to build Rome in a season, trading Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, Khalid Reeves and a FRP to Charlotte for Alonzo Mourning, Pete Myers and Leron Ellis. The Hornets didn’t want to pay Mourning, a superstar center, what he wanted. But the Heat did in 1996, the summer after it got him to a seven-year contract for $105 million, the first nine-figure commitment in NBA history.

In 1995, one of the smaller moves that was later impactful beyond vision at the time was the hiring of Erik Spoelstra as video coordinator.

In year one with the Heat, the new president and coach led it to a 42-40 record, a 10-game improvement over the previous campaign. When he and the team traveled to New York, in his first return to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19, 1995, Riley was booed by Knicks fans when he took the court with a hint of some cheers at lower decibels. Some faithful followers held signs that read “Pat’s a rat,” “Greedings, Pat,” “Riley – snake of New York,” etc.

The Heat were crushed in that game by 19 points. After it, ex-Riley enforcer Charles Oakley said in the locker room, “He came in here like he was God, waving and dancing… He’s high profile, one of [those] ego things.”

Additionally, that season, the club traded for Tim Hardaway, a three-time All-Star and Chris Gatling to solidify the foundation. In the first round, the eighth-seeded Heat matched up with the 72-win Chicago Bulls and were swept in three matches.

The Heat didn’t stand a chance because its frontline had Kurt Thomas, a rookie at power forward, and Walt Williams, a 6-foot-8 small forward who was a below-average rebounder next to Mourning. Chicago had Dennis Rodman, an all-time glass fiend, plus Toni Kukoč and Scottie Pippen, who averaged 11 boards for the series, denying the Heat extra possessions.

Additionally, the Bulls had Jordan, who was handed his fourth MVP award the next month, going off for 30 points a game. The Heat’s average margin of defeat was 23 points nightly.



That summer, 6-foot-11 P.J. Brown signed as a free agent in Miami. Following Mourning’s deal, the Heat signed Juwan Howard the same day, but the NBA refused to accept the latter on the grounds that the salary cap was exceeded for his addition. The club then filed a temporary injunction with a state court to prevent Howard from going to another team while it dealt with the league office.

Yet, it soon came to a settlement with the NBA, and Howard stayed in Washington. The Heat released this statement: “The Miami Heat and the NBA have agreed on a settlement in the Juwan Howard case. The Heat will have no further comment in the near future. Alonzo Mourning will remain with the Heat.”

Riley held a conference call with reporters, addressing the offseason. He said he had returned from the proctologist to get the NBA’s 10-foot pole removed from his ass.

In 1996-97, the Heat had its first 60-win season (61) and by mid-Febraury had 38 victories. In the organization’s history (founded in 1988), it had finished only two years with 38 wins or more. On Feb. 14, the team traded Thomas, Sasha Danilović and Martin Müürsepp to Dallas for the talented scoring forward Jamal Mashburn.

In 1997, Spoelstra was promoted from video coordinator to assistant coach/coordinator.

The Heat defeated the Magic in five, then met up with the Knicks, Riley’s old gang for the semis. It was seven outings of high-level defensive basketball, as Miami and New York shot 41% and 42% from the field.

In Game 5 in Miami, Oakley got tossed for shoving Mourning. Then New York’s Charlie Ward was boxing out into Brown’s knee at the free throw line, so he was flipped like a doll on the baseline. John Wallace tried to grab Brown but fell into the photographer’s row with them and it soon looked like a pile after fumble.

Next, Brown, Ward and John Starks were ejected. Miami won that evening and benefitted from suspensions to Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and Ward in Game 6. The Heat were missing Brown but won without him as Dan Majerle, Hardaway and Mourning got hot against neutered New York defenses.

The Heat won Game 7 behind Hardaway’s 38 and Mourning’s 22 points with 12 rebounds and became the sixth team in NBA history to recover from a 1-3 deficit in a series. Afterward, in the East Finals, Riley and the squad were vanquished by the reigning champion Bulls in five.

That defeat depressed Riley. Following the series, he said the Heat were a team with hopes and dreams, “Then you run into the Bulls and reality sets in even though you don’t want it to.”

His third year down south was another success in the regular season, as the group won 55 games, but it had a rematch with the Knicks in round one of the Playoffs. The bad blood was still there. In Game 4, Mourning and his former teammate Larry Johnson were entangled while going for a rebound off Hardaway’s top-of-the-key jumper, and then it instantly turned into fisticuffs between them.

Riley and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy tried to break it up, but the latter took a hit and held on to Mourning’s leg. At that position, J. Van Gundy could have been killed if a knee flew into the face or temple, but it strangely helped separate the brawlers who never connected on any blows aside from his. But as soon as he was helped up and held back, he was the one of the toughest guys on the court.

Mourning’s lack of self-control bought him $20K in fines and a suspension for the next match. At one point, when tensions were cooling, Mourning wanted another fade with what appeared anyone. Post-league announcement, Riley said he wasn’t surprised because it was consistent with its recent practices.

At the close out Game 5, the Heat’s offense was impotent without Mourning and failed to log more than 23 points in any quarter.

A year later, Riley and the first-seeded Heat were hosting the eighth-place Knicks. For New York, Ewing was 36 years old and not the same player following a wrist injury to his shooting hand in December of 1997.

For Miami, Hardaway looked spent, and Mourning had no sidekick as the series headed toward a fifth match. On May 16, 1999, the game came down to the last possession- with the Heat up one and four seconds left, Houston caught a sideline inbound at the top, broke a trap and made an elbow floater that kissed the front iron before falling in.

Straight up, the Heat was beat on its floor, and Riley said after it, “This hurts a lot more than last year (1998). Life in basketball has a lot of suffering in it. We will suffer for this.”

What’s noteworthy about this season is that Jordan had retired again. The East had quality teams, but there was no roadblock like him. People within the Heat organization thought the ‘99 team could have made the Finals. That’s why Houston’s shot is so damaging.

Yet it wouldn’t be until the 2000 East Semis that the Knicks put the biggest emotional hurt on Riley. Miami was again a 52-win outfit amid Hardaway’s decline. In February, it picked up Bruce Bowen, a dirty player with defensive skills, off waivers, and he turned into the eighth man (minutes averaged) of Riley’s rotation.

This iteration of the Heat was top-five in defensive rebounding and blocks while playing at the third-slowest pace in the NBA. In the Playoffs, it swept Detroit and met for its fourth rendezvous in five seasons with the Knicks.

The duel lasted another seven matches and was decided in its closing seconds. Hardaway had been a dud for the series and inefficiently emptied the clip in Game 7, shooting 30% from the field. Still, Mourning carried the club, dropping 29 points on 12 of 20 tries, but it wasn’t enough.

Keep in mind, the Knicks’ two leading scorers, Latrell Sprewell and Houston, shot ghastly percentages (below 40% of attempts for the series) throughout and combined for 10 of 30 makes in Game 7.

With 92 seconds left, the Heat was up 82-81 when the Knicks dribbled up court. Trying to force a turnover, Mourning blitzed Sprewell turning a screen but his show and recover was late, and Ewing dunked to give New York a one-point lead. Coming down the other way, Mourning was doubled in the post, tossing it back out, but Mashburn missed his ffadeaway in the lane.

The Heat were fortunate to get another attempt, but Hardaway wasted it, taking a reckless runner in the paint. Mourning tried to save it, but Sprewell contested and forced a jump ball that Miami won, and Riley called the team’s last timeout.

The best shot the Heat got off a sideline inbound was a leaning jumper by Clarence Weatherspoon. The Knicks threw the ball into oblivion on its check-in with two seconds left, winning by a point, in the Heat’s new home, American Airlines Arena.

The hosts were humiliated. Riley didn’t want to speak to anyone, team or media, and walked directly to his office. The players in the locker room were so despondent some could barely look reporters in the face. Many on that team knew that the group was done and couldn’t go further. Mourning then walked into Riley’s office, summoning him, “Get up and go talk the fucking team.” At that moment, the pupil was the coach, and his order followed.

In the offseason, Riley tinkered with the build (Mourning & Hardaway), trying to squeeze enough juice out of it for one last try at the title. To reload, he traded for Brian Grant, and got rid of fan favorites Mashburn and Brown, along with Otis Thorpe, Tim James and Rodney Buford, in a trade with Charlotte for Ricky Davis, Dale Ellis, Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason (former Riley player with Knicks).

After the moves, the Heat believed it had the best starting five in the league. Riley believed the team could get to the Finals for the first time. But that hope shattered quickly.

When training camp started at FAU, Mourning was absent from the scrimmage. He had failed a physical and was later diagnosed with kidney disease after seeing a specialist. The condition is called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Aside from losing the team’s best player, Riley was devastated because Mourning was his most trusted disciple.

It was common for reporters to hang around the team, ask Mourning questions, and Riley-isms to fall from his lips.

When Miami’s center learned of his condition, he asked after his biopsy, “Doc, am I gonna die?” He was told there was no cure and to expect to be on dialysis within a year. Surviving became Mourning’s primary objective. World-class treatment and his diligence assisted his recovery, and he was miraculously able to return with 13 games left in the season.

That year, the Heat performed way above expectations without Mourning, who was afflicted in his prime, winning 50 games. Mason had his top season, earning an All-Star selection, too. But when Mourning came back, the flow of the offense changed and Mason’s role was affected to the point he quit on the team. The Heat lost in three to Charlotte, led by ex-Heatle Mashburn in the Playoffs and the Mourning-Hardaway build was over. The quiet rebuild began.

Hardaway was moved for a second-round pick (Matt Freije was chosen) and a trade exception. Mason wasn’t retained either.

The Heat won 61 games over the next two seasons, Riley’s last before sticking with president duties (for the time being), which put it in position on draft night to select Caron Butler (10th) in 2002 and Dwyane Wade (fifth) in 2003. In 2002-03, complications with Mourning’s condition returned in the last year of his deal, which forced him out. He eventually got cleared to play the next campaign (2003-04) but did it as a New Jersey Net.

Riley named Stan Van Gundy as his successor.

Wade quickly showed he was the Heat’s future and best player. After his rookie season, Riley dealt for former MVP and three-time champ Shaquille O’Neal, who Jerry Buss didn’t want to pay long-term over Koby Bryant. Moving Lamar Odom, Grant, Butler, a future FRP (Jordan Farmar) and SRP (Renaldas Seibutis) cloaked the Diesel (O’Neal) in black and provided Miami one of the most lethal two-man combinations in the NBA with him and Wade.

Suddenly, the Heat were contenders again with the team Riley built for Van Gundy. In 2004-05, the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals but lost in seven. Wade missed Game 6 with hurt ribs while the Heat was up 3-2 in the series.

Next season, the Heat stumbled, winning 11 of its first 21 games. Van Gundy was then replaced by Riley, who came down from the executive chair and didn’t want to. The move happened because the relationship with Van Gundy and O’Neal had soured with the player quitting on the coach.

Miami finished the campaign with 52 victories and reached its first NBA Finals, defeating last year’s rival Pistons en route, too.

Against the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat lost the first pair and was down 13 points with less than seven minutes left of Game 3, but Wade’s eruption saved the team. When Miami took a 3-2 lead, Riley ordered the group to bring one change of clothes and inspected everyone’s baggage before the flight to ensure everyone was as committed.

The Heat captured its first title in Dallas behind 36 points by Wade. Riley hadn’t stood on the winner’s stage for 18 years but did then and said, “I really believed it was our time. We talked about it all year. We got 15 strong, that’s what’s in the pit…”

He tried to run it back with that group, but O’Neal was now 33 and considerably heavier, while the group’s chemistry was weak. His players won 44 outings but were swept by the Luol Deng-led Bulls. The most memorable part of the season is Riley clapping his troops off the court- ridiculing them for turning into fat cats living off last season’s achievements.

His career on the sidelines lasted one more year- a miserable endeavor with 15 wins and Wade missing 31 nights. Riley then promoted Spoelstra as head coach on April 28, 2008, allowing the president to get back to behind-the-scenes action, which has changed in the last 15 years.

In late June, the Heat used the second pick in the Draft on Michael Beasley, who played 171 games before getting traded to make room for big fish in free agency 2010. Riley liked the NCAA rebounding leader and First Teamer of the Big 12, but other voices within the organization pressed for him.

Beasley was picked over Russell Westbrook (fourth), who won an MVP in 2017 and averaged a triple-double in four seasons. Kevin Love, a champion who is a former rebounding leader with a dependable outside jumper, went fifth. And Brook Lopez, an old-school big who completely changed his game as a veteran and became an elite defender plus 3-point threat, was picked 10th.

Putting Beasley on the roster over Westbrook and Lopez in the short term made Spoelstra’s new gig harder than it should have been as a rookie head coach. However, Riley’s next move, looking ahead to summer 2010, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Heat player Wade turned free agents, was one the sharpest of his career.

The Heat kept the books clean and still had to convince James, Bosh and Wade to take a pay cut, but it did and overnight, went from mediocre first-round exit to perennial contender and the NBA’s most hated.


How disliked was this group?

They were booed in every arena. Objects were even thrown at them. And one league exec broke decorum years after James, Bosh and Wade joined forces by talking smack. During the 2013 campaign, then Celtics president of basketball ops Danny Ainge criticized James for complaining about calls in a loss to Chicago.

When Riley got word his player was getting dragged, he released this statement through Heat PR. “Danny Ainge needs to shut the fuck up. [Ainge was the] biggest whiner going when he was a player. I know that because I coached against him.”

In the 2011 Playoffs, the Heat overwhelmed Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago and returned to its second Finals. It ended up being a rematch with Dallas that Miami lost after a 2-1 lead. The Mavericks converted 41% of its 3-point attempts and lived at the charity line, taking 26 freebies a night. Most notably, James wasn’t himself, refusing to attack the basket and finishing with eight points.

The Heat wouldn’t bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Miami until the next Finals, defeating Kevin Durant and Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. To keep that team fresh, Riley signed Ray Allen, then the NBA’s leader in 3-point makes, as a free agent in summer 2012 for three years at over $9 million.

Adding Allen was one of the most significant signings in the organization’s history because he saved the team in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, facing off with the San Antonio Spurs. It also helped that coach Gregg Popovich committed one of the all-time arrogant decisions in NBA lore by sitting Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ best player and rebounder, thinking the game was over.

After James had dominated the fourth quarter, Miami was down three points, and he attempted a left-wing triple to tie. Bosh grabbed the rebound (the most important play of his career), dished it to Allen, and his 3-pointer banged. The Heat subsequently won in overtime and then Game 7 two nights later.

Winning with this group still didn’t make Riley sacrifice his rigid ways, even at age 68. On an off day in Los Angeles, Mario Chalmers, Allen and James wanted to hang out in Las Vegas. Riley didn’t permit them to leave the team.

In the build’s last season together (2014), James wasn’t a fan of management waiving Mike Miller, one of his favorite teammates. He was also annoyed that he’d learn from reporters, instead of being kept in the know, that his partner, Wade, would miss a game. He wasn’t having as much fun without Wade for over a third of the year. Additionally, the ramifications of Wade’s decline meant his voice wasn’t as powerful in the locker room as it used to be.

The Heat still made the Finals but were destroyed by the Spurs- a group motivated by coming seconds away from Miami’s last trophy. That team ended the Big Three era.

In the summer, James left for Cleveland, shocking the upper echelon of the Heat because it had delivered on its important promise to make him a champion. The question asked was, “Why did he leave?”

The Heat re-signed Bosh to a max and Wade to a shorter deal post-James’ departure, desperate to keep some of its DNA. The former would have his career cut short by blood clots, which affected him in the last two seasons while he was still an All-Star. He wanted to play after that but was denied by Heat doctors. He never balled in a meaningful game again.

Bosh’s first issue with blood clots came two days after the Heat traded for Goran Dragić, a Third-Team All-NBA guard in 2014, who was unhappy in Phoenix. Dragić’s presence next to Bosh, was supposed to eventually be a lethal two-man option, but it didn’t get to share the court long in 2016 either.

Wade got healthier than 2013-14 for two seasons, but disputes over a long-term deal broke his heart. In the summer of 2016, the Heat giving headache Hassan Whiteside the big bucks first upset Wade because he thought he should be the priority as the leader. When he was looking for his payday, he saw the Heat was attempting a Hail Mary for Durant, who he knew wasn’t coming to Miami.

Wade, a franchise legend, left in free agency to play for his hometown Bulls because Riley went cold on him. The departure ended up helping the Heat because in Chicago, Wade realized how unserious the organization was and convinced Jimmy Butler there were better teams to play for.

Between 2014 and 2019, the Heat failed to make the Playoffs three times. But its fortunes changed starting with VP of basketball ops Andy Elisburg’s chat with Cavaliers president Koby Altman about bringing back Wade for the low in 2018. Nineteen months after he left, Wade was back for the price of a SRP.

Next, in the 2019 offseason, after Wade’s retirement, Riley and his lieutenants pulled off a four-team trade that brought J. Butler, its current star, to Miami.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that Miami missed on a superstar in the 2015 Draft. With the 10th pick, the Heat selected Justise Winslow, who many projections had as a top-five guy over Devin Booker, who is currently one of the three top guards in the NBA.

Riley and the Heat made up for that blunder by getting Bam Adebayo, an elite defender and mid-range shooter with the #14 pick in 2017. In 2019, it struck gold again at #13, choosing Tyler Herro, a versatile scoring guard. These two players are part of the core of the current group that’s gone to two NBA Finals in the last four years.

And recently, the Heat selected Jaime Jaquez Jr., 18th, and he has been the steal of the Draft.

But where does this leave Riley at age 78? He once said that he and his wife would exit stage left when Miami wins the next one. At present, the Heat is a quality team but not as loaded as some others in the NBA, putting his group in a similar spot to his former Knicks and the Mourning-Hardaway build.

But why should anyone believe him anyway? Part of the reason he has so many is because he’s cursed with needing more.



For more in this series on Pat Riley, click on Part 1 as well as Part 2.

The Pat Riley series, part 2: The winner’s disease

Within a week of getting canned by the Los Angeles Lakers, NBC hired the hottest free agent around as a pregame show host: Pat Riley. He said he liked the move because working in a studio wouldn’t mess up his hair.

Instead of sharing a court with pro ballers from the sidelines, he now worked in a studio with Peter Vecsey and Bob Costas, and did well transitioning back to broadcasting when he wasn’t getting emotional. On one occasion, he helped Vecsey recall a name on air quickly enough so it wouldn’t look awkward for the audience.

“He saved my ass a couple of times,” Vecsey said.

While at NBC, Riley was given a unique perk: turning the green room (waiting area for talent) into his smoking lounge, which he made clear was his spot, and no one was invited inside.

On Jan. 29, 1991, when the New Jersey Nets traveled to Los Angeles, Riley made his first public appearance at the Fabulous Forum, home of the Lakers. He was interviewed at halftime by his old boss, Chick Hearn and current partner, Stu Lantz. He admitted to watching all of his old club’s games, saying he missed the competition and camaraderie, but a coaching return wasn’t likely.

When it was common knowledge that he was leaving his TV buddies after a season to take the New York Knicks coaching vacancy, and it was brought up to him as a joke, particularly by Vecsey, he would get irritated. The job wasn’t officially his until May 31, 1991, and interim coach John MacLeod wouldn’t be replaced until the end of the season (May 2), but months before, the order of future events was known.

During this time, the head producer of the show thought of assigning four lottery teams to the talent for a TV segment with a hypothetical pick. The directive was to make Riley choose the Knicks. (New York made the Playoffs as a 39-win eighth seed.)

Riley refused, angrily walking off the set to the green room despite his boss’ insistence.

Regardless of disagreements and his aloofness, Vecsey said Riley was cool. “He wasn’t difficult to work with. These are just things that happen.”


In October (1991), Riley was back in the saddle as head coach and opened training camp in Charleston, South Carolina. Quickly into practice, Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason impersonated two heavyweights trying to decapitate one another because of a dispute over dirty play, per Chris Herring, author of Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks.

When tensions settled, Riley was pleased to have the most vicious group in the league that would intimidate and hurt any opponent. The crew had Charles Oakley, a power forward as physical in the lane as nose tackle at the line of scrimmage; It had Xavier McDaniel, a scrappy wing that could hound opposing top players; It had Anthony Mason, another switchblade that toed the line between fair and foul. This surrounded superstar center Patrick Ewing.

In the early season, it was clear the Knicks were no longer an unserious operation. It won 20 of its first 30 games with Riley in charge by Dec. 26. New York didn’t win that many outings the previous season until early February, and now it was riding the wave of its brawler identity.

Yet, early in the campaign, Riley showed his vulnerable side on Nov. 7 for the Knicks’ game against Orlando. That day, Magic Johnson, Riley’s former player, announced that he had contracted HIV and was prematurely retiring. Riley, trying to hold it together, asked the audience to pray for Johnson and the others afflicted before reciting the “Lord’s prayer” and starting with the match.

Riley and the Knicks finished 1991-92 as the fourth seed with a 51-31 record, behind the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. In the Playoffs, it drew the remnants of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons in round one, beating them in five, mainly because the Knicks abused the offensive glass. New York was so physical in the lane that it averaged 8.2 more field goal attempts than Detroit per game.

Then, it faced off with the defending champion Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, in the East Semis. New York lasted seven exchanges before going down. Much to Riley’s annoyance, his squad failed to stop Jordan from scoring over a third of Chicago’s points while the games flowed at a snail’s pace. Additionally, for the Knicks, there was a severe drop-off in production after Ewing and McDaniel.

As much as his players were in heated competition with Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, Riley was coaching against Phil Jackson, who, at the end of the decade, would have a résumé thicker than his. Jackson wrote in his memoir Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success that Riley was copying the Bad Boys’ mold, hiring its defensive instructor Dick Harter and that his best weapon wasn’t Ewing, but instead his ability to manipulate the press and the referees.

New York wanted to slow down Jordan using overly physical play so that the refs wouldn’t reward him with free throws. Jackson grew tired of this tactic and started snitching on Ewing to the refs for traveling.

That summer, McDaniel left for Boston and the Knicks were in scramble mode to find someone who could light up a series with 19 points and tenacious defense. Madison Square Garden execs Dave Checketts (president) and Ernie Grunfeld (then VP of player personnel) would replace him in a late-September trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Orlando Magic that brought back Doc Rivers, Bo Kimble and impressively, Charles Smith, to the Big Apple.

Yet Riley’s excitement with Smith’s added presence was short-lived because the former #3 pick in 1988 wasn’t as “tough” as the rest of the team and, naturally, was a finesse player trying to bang. As a Knick under Riley, he was the third big in the starting five next to Oakley and Ewing, slotted at small forward.

That campaign, Riley coached the squad to its second 60-win year (first in 1970) and the top seed in the East, which gave them home-court advantage throughout the Playoffs. In rounds one and two, New York dusted the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets to set up a rematch with the Bulls, now back-to-back champs.

Riley and Co. won the first two at home but were disemboweled when the series shifted to Chicago. The grudge match returned to MSG for Game 5, which Knicks supporters infamously remember. En route to a dramatic finish, the Knicks misfired 15 freebies, were outrebounded by 11, and no starter aside from Ewing logged more than four field goals when all of Chicago’s had at least five.

But Smith, with his team down one, had an open look as his defender, Grant, was underneath the basket at a poor angle for a block yet still got a piece of it. With three Bulls closing in, Smith managed three more tries at close range, getting blocked by Pippen from behind on the last attempt that sparked a fastbreak layup that went in as the final buzzer horned through MSG. The Bulls won 97-94.

Postgame, Riley tried to hide dissatisfaction but couldn’t when he said, “The free throws are free.”

The Knicks got one more chance but failed in Chicago because of poor first and fourth quarters. Following that one, Riley said about his players, “The misery and disappointment they will feel for a while will be overwhelming…”

That summer (1993), he did a lengthy interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, talking about his career and the current state of the Knicks. He said his group didn’t get it done, but for it to, it would need to “go through a process of pain” to win the championship. Evidently, all the fights behind the scenes weren’t enough.

But all of the league’s chances to win significantly improved when Jordan retired in October of 1993 because he was sick of his teammates and bored of balling, as reported by Vecsey. His departure from the Bulls left a void at the top of the NBA’s food chain that Riley was desperate to fill quickly with the Knicks.

In 1993-94, New York opened with the highest odds to win the title (+200), per Sports Odds History. It won 57 games and was second place in the East behind the Atlanta Hawks, subsequently taking out the New Jersey Nets in four to start the Playoffs.

But before the regular season ended, Riley challenged Smith’s toughness as he was recovering from a second knee surgery within a year. When he entered the locker room in street clothes, Riley baited him into answering that he could play through one minute of pain in front of a lurking group.

The coach wasn’t thinking about preserving the long-term investment made in Smith last offseason. Instead, he could only see as far as June, envisioning a return to the Finals, and humiliated his player.



(For Part 1 of this series, click HERE).



In the Playoffs, even without Jordan, the Bulls, led by Pippen, pushed the Knicks to seven games. Referee Hue Hollins made a controversial call on Pippen swatting Hubert Davis’ top of the key jumper with 2.1 seconds left in Game 5 because of contact on the follow-through. New York edged it out by one.

In the Conference Finals against Indiana, the eighth man on the Pacers was Riley’s former player with the Lakers, Byron Scott, but he logged 12 minutes a night in the series. The Knicks’ work on the offensive glass overwhelmed its rivals for second-chance opportunities, and defensively, it held Reggie Miller to inefficient shooting.

On June 8, the Finals began against the Rockets at The Summit. It was the first rematch for a title between Ewing and his Houston counterpart Hakeem Olajuwon since their duel in the 1984 National Championship game, which the Georgetown Hoyas won over the Houston Cougars.

The Knicks lost the opener but tied the series going back home off John Starks and Derek Harper combining for seven of 10 triples while Mason added 13 points on seven tries.

The Knicks held a 3-2 lead before going back to Houston but dropped the next two. The defeat handed Riley his fourth Finals loss as head coach, and after the game, said his team didn’t make the necessary shots to survive. The biggest problem for New York was its two leading scorers, Ewing and John Starks, were held below 40% field goal shooting in the series.

Year four with the team saw about as much success as the last before the Playoffs, but the group stalled out early with a second-round defeat to the Indiana Pacers in seven. Miller scored eight points in nine seconds in Game 1 when the Pacers were on life support at MSG. All an angry Riley could say was “No” when asked if there was a positive takeaway.

In Game 7, the Knicks failed to stop Dale Davis, Rik Smits, Derrick McKey and Miller, who appeared to be in target practice, and lost by two points at home. That’s as far as Riley took New York, but the public wouldn’t know yet.

Before New York’s season ended, Riley was done with the team. So, he tampered and quit to avoid fulfilling the last year of his deal. Extension talks weren’t fruitful earlier because Riley made a request that left his bosses shaken: he wanted to be their boss- an owner.

They wouldn’t give it to him, so Riley’s pal Dick Butera worked the back channels with the new majority owner of the Heat, Micky Arison, to sweeten his deal. At the same time, his official reps were coy with MSG management on a return with a similarly structured contract, per Chris Herring.

Arison met his extraordinary salary demands, gave him complete control as president, plus what he sought as an owner. When Riley was satisfied, he faxed over the news to the Knicks. Then he went on the lam to Greece.

Stay tuned for part three’s release about the fallout and Heat years on Wednesday.





The Pat Riley series, part 1: Rise of the Godfather

Pat Riley’s lust for rings and trophies has annoyed, hurt and inspired others while elevating three separate NBA teams over the last 42 years. The Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat had some of their best days with him in charge, but his grand accomplishments could have gone unrecognized at the coaching level if not for a tragic bike wreck to Jack McKinney.

“In a way,” Riley responded to Charlie Rose in 1993 when asked if he accidentally stumbled into coaching. “I used to [do] a lot of clinics when I was a player, and I felt very good. I’d be a guest speaker. I’d go to basketball clinics, there’d be a couple hundred kids…”

Yet his work as a player, initially, wasn’t enough to buy him an opportunity on the sidelines or even access to the team he played for. Before Jack Kent Cooke’s sale of the club to Jerry Buss in 1979, Riley was denied entry into the team lounge filled with former players and other VIPs.

It was a crushing blow to Riley, who had devoted his life to sports, and a humiliation similar to what his father felt when fired after years of tireless work in Minor League Baseball. But seeing that as a child accelerated his understanding that pro sports is a field of specialists not many break into or last in.

Eventually, he would turn into an egomaniacal control freak who was referred to as a “heroic figure” in Dr. Jerry Buss’ Hall of Fame speech. As extensive and impressive as his résumé is- winning as a player, coach, and executive and consistently putting out quality teams, it doesn’t come without stains- getting a player injured, pressuring another to perform hurt, drafting the wrong guys, signing questionable characters and getting cheap with a franchise legend.


But how did he get there?

As a child, getting the snot kicked out of him by neighborhood bullies in Schenectady, New York, then rechallenging them for another whooping at his father’s orders, eased his fears of contact. Learning about life and grammar from his high school coach, Walt Przybylo, a World War Two veteran, transformed him from a rough-riding teen into a trained contributor to a cause.

“We’d go through school, then at 3:15 [pm], we’d go down to practice…we all just sat there and waited,” Riley said to Rose. “He’d come out, and he would start talking about some subject or some experience he had. He’d talk about one of us, [how] he got a letter from the chemistry teacher. And he’d make a point out of it.”

Riley didn’t value Przybylo’s teachings until later in life after he’d left Linton High School, but at his next stop, the University of Kentucky, he met another disciplinarian who would significantly impact his life. That was Adolph Rupp, the coach of the men’s basketball team.

In Rupp’s program, Riley would play as an undersized 6-foot-4 power forward and averaged 18.3 points per game in his last three years (freshman played JV until 1972). He even competed on the all-white players team that lost against the Texas Western Miners, who were all black, in the 1966 National Championship game.

Eventually, Riley was drafted with the seventh pick in 1967 by the San Diego Rockets. Fewer than two months earlier, he’d been picked by the NFL club Dallas Cowboys as a wideout. In his career, outlandish requests would become the norm. Here is where they began: He told Tom Landry, the coach of the Cowboys, that he wasn’t interested in receiver but in playing quarterback, the position held by Don Meredith, an All-Pro the previous year. Riley hadn’t put on the pads since high school.

He reported to Rockets camp and instantly found out how far behind he was competitively with the rest of the NBA because he couldn’t even get the ball across half-court—his time with that team lasted 177 games across three seasons before he wasn’t protected from the Expansion Draft. Now, his player rights belonged to the newly formed Portland Trail Blazers.

Before he showed up in Rip City, he married Christine Rodstrom in the summer of 1970 while $5,000 in debt. That night was also the last time he saw his father, Lee Riley.

During his wedding, he shared a private moment with his pops, expressing his bitterness about being put on an expansion team. There, he was told not to do what his father did- abandon his goals when it seemed hardest. On the drive out, from the backseat of a red Chevrolet Caprice, Lee Riley stuck his head out the window and repeated the message he always had for his family: “Sometime, you got to plant your feet, stand firm and make a point about who you are and what you believe in.”

Apart from some threads, his only possessions at the time were his ‘67 yellow convertible Corvette, seven vinyl records, a king-size bed, and a plastic plant. Next, he was on his way to Portland, but the Trail Blazers, an outfit that wouldn’t play its first game until mid-October, didn’t want him either and traded him to Los Angeles.

When he happily returned to southern California with his wife, he was told by then Lakers general manager Fred Schaus what he needed to do to make the team: keep Jerry West and Jim McMillian in shape by picking them up full court in practice the days after they logged heavy minutes.

With the Lakers, Riley was part of the 1972 championship team (10th in minutes averaged) that included Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich and West, among others, and won 33 straight games and the city’s first but organization’s sixth.

His playing tenure with the Lakers lasted until two games into the 1975-76 season, but before getting shipped to the Phoenix Suns, Riley got to play with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

When his nine-year athletic career concluded, Riley returned again to Los Angeles before getting hired as Chick Hearn’s sidekick during Lakers’ broadcasts. In the meantime, Riley was habitually lounging in the sand, staring at the Pacific Ocean, or engaged in a beach volleyball match with Chamberlain.

As Hearn’s right hand, he provided timely analysis and handed out boarding passes to the players.




Fast forward to the 1979-80 season, beginning with the Lakers winning nine of its first 13 matches. Jack McKinney, a five-year NBA assistant with 15 more between high school and college, was the head coach who replaced West. He had experience already for a season with Abdul-Jabbar in 1975, when both were in Milwaukee. His right hand, Paul Westhead, played three years at Saint Joseph’s and was a coach at La Salle University for nine more.

But on an off-day in Palm Springs on Nov. 8, 1979, while on a ride over to play tennis with Westhead, McKinney’s bicycle malfunctioned when he tried to brake, thrusting him forward for a nasty slide on concrete that caused a severe head injury.

The next night, hosting the Denver Nuggets, Westhead took over, and the Lakers won in overtime 126-122. McKinney wasn’t going to come back soon, so within the week, Buss permitted his replacement coach to hire an assistant. He picked Riley, who had no similar relationship with him as he did with his mentor, McKinney.

At first, Riley was indecisive and needed a week to think about jumping from booth to bench. It helped soothe his fears that Hearn allowed it and promised he’d have his gig back when “McKinney returned.” His first game on the bench as a coach was on Nov. 27, 1979, for the team’s trip to Utah. The Lakers, using McKinney’s playbook, won by four points that night and took seven of its next 10. By the All-Star break, it had accumulated a 29-13 record.

While Westhead was in charge and especially early, Riley, being a veteran of the league, helped him understand the dynamics of players at the professional level and paid attention to all the details, even those microscopic. He was also in charge of the Summer League team starting in the 1980 offseason, but Riley also credits Westhead as a “lifetime coach.”

He told Rose in his 1993 interview that Westhead was a disciplined man who he absorbed much from. “You realize just how much you don’t know about coaching and drilling and planning and organization until you’re asked to do it. He taught me a lot in the organizational manner. He gave me a lot of responsibility.”

The Lakers finished that season winning 60 games, stormed through the Playoffs with a 12-4 record, and captured the championship in Game 6 of the Finals in Philadelphia. Magic Johnson famously started at center for an injured Abdul-Jabbar, who watched from his Bel Air home. Buss told the press two days (May 13) after Game 4 that Westhead was keeping the job.

During the celebration, while commissioner Larry O’Brien was handing the trophy to Buss, Riley looked into the CBS camera and assured his wife Christine, plus Abdul-Jabbar and his then-girlfriend Cheryl Pistono, that the party would end in Los Angeles with them.

Euphoria lasted for the summer, but skip ahead to April 1981, when the Lakers’ quest to repeat was derailed by Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets in three games. Throughout the campaign, Westhead implemented his “system,” which deviated from the free-flowing attack used previously, or at least, the results did.

Next year, Westhead insisted on keeping his attack style in place, but the players were unhappy, and the team’s vibes soured. In a game in San Antonio against the Spurs without George Gervin, the Lakers were demolished by 26 points. Johnson wrote about his disappointment in his 1983 memoir (published at age 23) that Spurs were not “not that good.”

But then a five-match winning streak started in Houston, which didn’t squash the unhappiness festering with the unit. During a timeout of a game in Phoenix on Nov. 14, 1981, before Norm Nixon could finish offering his observation on needing more movement, Riley screamed at him that the players were the problem in defense of Westhead’s system.

Four nights later, Johnson undercut his bosses, telling the press he wanted to be traded in the locker room in Utah. He had been venting to his camp about it for weeks but finally spilled it. That night, when the Lakers’ bus transported the players to their hotel, Riley uncharacteristically left Westhead alone in the front row and got his own ride. On the flight to Salt Lake City before the game, Westhead sat by himself, too. Players noted it because they were tight, but not so much anymore.

Within hours of Johnson’s outburst, Buss set up a morning meeting with his two execs, Bill Sharman and Jerry West. The decision to let Westhead go, while the Lakers had won five in a row, was finalized there.

Initially, West was Buss’ choice to succeed Westhead, not Riley. Miscommunication between the two led to an awkward presser where Buss said his squad had an offensive and defensive coach with West and Riley. Then West told the press he would work “for and with” Riley, confusing everyone. But when the circus ended, Riley, at age 36, was in command of the players, with West as a temporary assistant.

Instantly, the intensity of Lakers’ practices increased 100 degrees from amateur-level training sessions, said Michael Cooper, a 12-year former player of Riley’s in Los Angeles to Five Reasons Sports Network.

“Our practices totally changed and they got better,” Cooper said. “They got more defensive oriented… more intense, more detailed on what we wanted to do. We spent a lot of time on our half court defense.”

But the most striking change to the Los Angeles club was that Johnson was comfortable and back to his dazzling tricks.

Riley’s first game as head instructor was a 20-point rout of San Antonio on Nov. 20, 1981. After winning six of its first seven, the Lakers removed the interim tag. The newly empowered coach then inserted Kurt Rambis, a hustling, utility goon at power forward about a month later.

Showtime was back, and Riley was picked to coach the West All-Stars, an honor he would receive eight more times in his career.

Yet, even early in his tenure, he was tough on his guys. In March, after a loss to the Chicago Bulls, Riley held a meeting, to address everyone’s shortcomings. According to Johnson in his memoir, he was toughest on Cooper, telling him, “I don’t know where you get the idea you’re a star because you’re not. You’re just a sub. It’s about time you realized that…”

Riley finished berating Cooper with off-color characterizations. A five-game win streak followed.

In the playoffs, the Lakers went 14-2 and snagged its second title in three seasons over the 76ers, and Riley’s first as head coach, but his third total. His players deployed double teams and blitzes that 76ers forward Julius Erving said were used better than any college team after practice at St. Joseph’s College before Game 5 of the Finals.

During the series, Philadelphia coach Billy Cunningham told the press Los Angeles was playing a zone, which was illegal until 2001 and complained about it repeatedly to referee Darell Garretson.



The following season, the Lakers returned to the Finals for another duel with the 76ers, but the East champs had a significant edge. Moses Malone, the reigning back-to-back MVP (previously with Houston), had joined the ‘81 winner, Erving. He also had Abdul-Jabbar’s number. Philadelphia swept Los Angeles to win the title.

Then, in May 1984, the Lakers and Celtics, who had been on a collision course all season, met up for the Finals for the first time since 1969, when Boston prevented Jack Kent Cooke’s balloons from falling after Game 7. The Lakers won the first match in hostile territory and had the second in the bag, but Riley made the biggest coaching mistake of his career at the time, which he’s publicly admitted.

With 18 seconds left in Game 2 of the ‘84 Finals, the Lakers were up 113-111, and Celtics forward Kevin McHale went to the line for a chance to tie. After his first miss, Riley instructed his team to take a timeout and it did following the second brick. Next, James Worthy inbounded to Johnson, who passed back because he was trapped. Worthy then attempted a cross-court feed to Byron Scott that was intercepted by Gerald Henderson for a layup. Boston tied, then won in overtime, later the series in seven outings. In Game 2, LA should have let Boston foul.

Riley and the Lakers wouldn’t avenge defeat until a rematch in next year’s Finals. The Celtics were on record before the series, saying the team they respected the most was the 76ers. Larry Bird, in particular, said nothing gave him greater pleasure than beating Philadelphia.

LA and Boston had the best records in the league, again, and when they met up in the Playoffs, the Celtics flattened them by 34 points. It became famously known as the “Memorial Day Massacre.”

Postgame, Riley said the Celtics were “going on all cylinders.” Privately, he was seething because a role player on Boston’s bench, Scott Wedman, dropped 26 points on an immaculate 11 tries. “Who the fuck is Scott Wedman!?” he screamed at his group, per Jeff Pearlman, author of Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.

Aside from Boston’s eighth man (in minutes averaged) torching LA, Abdul-Jabbar’s lack of production was of equal worry. He had 12 points and three rebounds, looking as ancient as his detractors claimed at age 38. On the ride to the arena for Game 2, Riley bucked his rigid methods and allowed Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., Abdul-Jabbar’s father, to ride on the bus with the Lakers.

One of Riley’s rules was that family members didn’t travel with the team, a common practice in the NBA. Yet, others like Red Auerbach, who coached the Celtics from 1950-66 and was strict too, allowed players’ wives to come along.

Abdul-Jabbar responded with 30 points on 57% shooting with 17 rebounds to tie the series back to LA. In the locker room, Riley said without him, the Lakers were an average team. The group would subsequently earn the title in six, and Abdul-Jabbar won Finals MVP.

During the locker room celebration, Riley was asked about the difference from the previous year. He cited rebounding plus the play of Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson being the equalizers. There he also repeated the last words he heard his father say months before he died. “Some time, we have to plant our feet, stand firm and make a point. And we made that point. We took that parquet floor here, and all the skeletons are cleaned out…”

During the offseasons, he also developed the habit of writing letters to his players about expectations for the upcoming year, per Jeff Pearlman. For someone who would eventually become known as the Godfather, this tactic was the equivalent of a street boss telling his top earners how much dough needed to be brought in.

In 1985-86, the Lakers registered another 60 victories, but Abdul-Jabbar’s decline continued. Then, in the Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets’ twin towers of Akeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson were a mismatch for him, plus Rambis at power forward.

That summer, the Lakers drafted A.C. Green and, during the 1986-87 campaign, traded for Mychal Thompson, father of current Warriors guard/forward Klay Thompson, to preserve speed when Abdul-Jabbar sat. Additionally, one of Riley’s important directives was telling Johnson to pick up his scoring. The motivation behind this was lessening the workload on Abdul-Jabbar.

That season, Los Angeles beat Denver, Golden State, and Seattle to return to the Finals for another showdown with the Celtics, the reigning champs who took out Houston the pior year.

The pivotal moment in the series was Game 4 at Boston Garden. Riley’s team came back from down eight points with four minutes left on moves from Cooper, Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar, and Johnson’s baby-hook through the lane to take the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter. The Lakers went up 3-1 in the series that evening. Five nights later, it was closed out in Los Angeles in Game 6.

In the locker room celebrating that one, covered in champagne, holding a handle and with a white towel around his neck like he just stepped out of a prize fight, Riley said the squad was the “best group of guys” he’d ever been around as a coach.

At a pre-media event for the parade, he promised a repeat, which annoyed players, specifically Worthy, because A, he was hungover, and B, he didn’t think that the current achievement was being appreciated enough. “What the fuck did he just say,” Worthy said when recalling events on the Players’ Tribune Knuckleheads Podcast. “You know that’s an automatic target on your back…He knew he had to do something. Not that he was running out of for motivational speeches, but he was getting close.”

Those comments set the stage for the objective in 1987-88. The players took two-week vacations instead of a month and started working out early at the track together, racing each other. In the regular season, the Lakers had its fourth-straight 60-win year (62) with an eight-match advantage over the second-place Nuggets in the West.

In the playoffs, LA made lite work of the Spurs but then engaged in three Game 7s against Utah, Dallas and Detroit. In Game 1 of the Finals, the emerging Pistons, bullies or psychopaths of the court, blasted the Lakers in Los Angeles by a dozen.

In the sixth outing in LA, Detroit held a 3-2 lead, but the Lakers benefitted from one of the all-time lucky breaks thanks to the refs Ed Rush and Hugh Evans. Isiah Thomas had just ripped the hosts in the third quarter for 25 of the Pistons’ 35 points and left in between with a busted ankle but came back. Yet, with 14 seconds left in the game, Detroit’s goon Bill Laimbeer allegedly fouled Abdul-Jabbar’s hook. The refs saw a phantom penalty, but not the big man travel. The Lakers won 103-102.

Detroit lost by three points in Game 7, with Thomas hobbled and only playing 28 minutes. Riley admitted in 2014 that the Pistons were cheated when he said it was a phantom foul.

He and the Lakers maneuvered through a fan-invaded court to the locker room for the party as back-to-back champs- the league’s first since the Celtics in ’68 and ’69. One of the lasting images of CBS’ coverage was him and Johnson embracing for a long hug as champagne poured over their heads for the last time. Yet it wouldn’t be long before Johnson and others within the Lakers grew sick of him.

Part of what’s made Riley successful is that he can’t be satisfied for long. To a group who reached the pinnacle five times over in eight years, his tricks were stale while his ego was out of control.

Naturally, the loaded Lakers, even with Abdul-Jabbar in his final year, registered 57 wins in 1988-89. LA swept through the West Playoffs and before a Finals rematch with the Pistons, Riley wasted Scott in his training camp-style practices. A box-out drill cost the team one of its best perimeter defenders and Johnson’s backcourt partner, who could shoot from distance and pressure the inside, to a hamstring injury called “moderately severe.”

The veteran-filled Lakeshow was a dynasty running near empty, and Riley’s strategy was the equivalent of hitting the gas on the freeway when the “check engine” light turns on.

Strong first and third quarters powered Detroit to a Game 1 win, but Johnson pulled his left hamstring in the third frame of Game 2. He managed five minutes of the next one but was done for the year. The Lakers were swept, and postgame, Riley said Detroit kicked LA’s ass.

Abdul-Jabbar retired that offseason, but that didn’t stop the Lakers from winning 63 outings with Thompson as a starter. But the highs that began in October didn’t last in the Playoffs. The Lakers fell early in round two to the Phoenix Suns in five.

“He had really stretched us thin, as far as practices and getting us hyped up,” Cooper said to FRSN. “It took its toll on us. Guys were like a little leary…”

After winning coach of the year for the first time, the Lakers fired Riley, but Buss let him keep his dignity, publicly saying it was a resignation. His replacement was Mike Dunleavy, a two-year assistant coach with the Bucks.

At the end with the Lakers, Riley, who wasn’t GM, started acting like one, and Johnson was directly involved in the removal, according to retired NBA insider Peter Vecsey.

“He got involved talking about the money they were making, and that pissed them off because it was none of his business,” Vecsey said to 5RSN.


Mateo Mayorga (@MateoMayorga23) is a basketball columnist for the Five Reasons Sports Network. Stay tuned for Part two and three’s release on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Special thank you to Peter Vecsey for sending the cover photo.)

The Dolphins' Jaelan Phillips has an Achilles tendon give out as he began to rush the passer in the second half against the Jets.

Pressure Point: Jaelan Phillips’ injury taints Dolphins’ win, renews turf complaints

What should have been a feel-good win for the Miami Dolphins with a thorough trouncing of the rival Jets instead left a sickening aftertaste due to the loss of a defensive standout to an apparent serious leg injury.

The sight of Jaelan Phillips, who was blossoming into a dominant force as an edge player, being carted off the field after collapsing with an Achilles tendon injury without being engaged in contact turned a 34-13 win into a heartbreaker for the Dolphins on Friday at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands.

Until then the visual of the day was a spectacular 99-yard interception return by Dolphins safety Jevon Holland off a “Hail Mary” throw by the Jets’ Tim Boyle just before the end of the first half.

Curiously, it was 39 years to the day since the most infamous Hail Mary in the annals of Miami football. It was Nov. 23, 1984 that Boston College QB Doug Flutie uncorked a desperation heave that carried more than 60 yards and came down in the hands of his roommate Gerard Phelan with 6 seconds left to snatch victory from the Miami Hurricanes in a 45-41 thriller.

Flutie’s Miracle in Miami is often referred to as the “Hail Flutie”.

Jets flop with ‘Fail Mary’

Boyle’s ill-fated fling was quickly being referred to on social media as a “Fail Mary.” It was indicative of the failings of an inept Jets offense that has been reeling without direction since losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to an Achilles injury in the season opener.

Rodgers’ injury occurred on the same Met Life Stadium artificial turf that been derided by players as a dangerous surface. There have been quite a few serious injuries attributed to the unforgiving surface there.

“It’s tough, especially playing on this turf,” Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert said after the game. “You saw what happened to Rodgers in the first game. We’ve got to do something about this turd. Obviously, it’s still a major problem. It just has to change.

“The reason why guys are against the [artificial] turf is there’s no give to the turf.”

Losing Phillips is a tough blow to a Dolphins defense that continued its resurgence with another dominant performance. The injury is devastating for Phillips who overcame injuries that nearly ended his football career in college.

Phillips’ injury stirs emotions

Before the injury, Phillips was having another outstanding game with four tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits, and three tackles for loss.

Later, Phillips tweeted: “Absolutely devastated, but I feel strength in knowing that this is all a part of God’s plan, and that I have an incredible team and support system around me. I’ll be back stronger than ever.”

Phillips, who the Dolphins drafted in the first round after one season at the University of Miami, has merged as a favorite not only of Dolphins fans but of teammates.

“He’s going to know that he’s loved and he’s missed, but we’re going to go out there and ball for him,” ~ Holland said in a TV interview immediately after the game.

Meanwhile, the signature play of the game was Holland picking off Boyle’s pass and weaving through through futile pursuit by the Jets. Vital because it followed Tua Tagovailoa throwing a pick-6 that cut the Miami lead to 10-6, putting the Jets back in the game despite managing only two first downs and 47 yards of total offense in the half.

Another Tua interception then set up Boyle’s ill-fated heave with 2 seconds remaining. Instead, Holland’s coast-to-coast dash made it 17-6 Miami at the intermission and the outcome was never in doubt after that.

“That was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said. “That was a crazy play that we needed.”

“That was very reminiscent of [hall-of-famer] Ed Reed,” coach Mike McDaniel said.

The Dolphins improved to 8-3 and are sitting pretty in the AFC East lead and as one of five three-loss teams in the conference.

Dolphins one of five three-loss teams in AFC

They were also 8-3 at this point last season before losing five in a row.

There is plenty of reason to feel better about their position right now. The next three weeks they face the 4-8 Commanders away, and the 3-7 Titans and the 4-7 Jets at home.

Miami’s fate in the regular season figures to be decided by the closing gauntlet of Cowboys, Ravens and Bills.

As in recent weeks, the Dolphins defense continued to impress more than the offense that was the talk of the NFL early in the season but has been erratic lately.

The defense had seven sacks and limited the struggling Jets offense to 2.9 yards per play.

Fins have things to fix on offense

Offensively, the turnovers were troubling and the health of the line continues to be a concern.

Star left tackle Terron Armstead left the game early with another injury. With backup Kendall Lamm also ailing, they had to call on the third choice of Kion Smith.

Nonetheless, I was glad to see McDaniel stick with the rushing game even though room to run was sparse against a tough Jets defense. The Dolphins averaged a mere 3.3 yards a carry in the first half. But they ended up with 167 yards and an average of 4.5, including two second-half touchdown by Mostert.

Most impressive was the 15-play, 92-yard drive that consumed nine minutes and put the game well out of reach at 27-6.

It must be a good sign that the Dolphins has progressed to where even lopsided wins get picked apart. But it’s tough to feel bad in any way about a rout of the hated Jets on the road.
Unfortunately, the injury to Phillips left a deep pain in the gut to the team and its fans.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Black Wednesday in the NBA

On Thanksgiving, commissioner Adam Silver and head of basketball ops Joe Dumars are likely waking up to massive migraines because Steve Kerr has lost control of his team, and egomaniacal Gregg Popovich rebuked Spurs fans.

“I didn’t think Chris [Paul] deserved to be ejected,” Kerr said. “The first tech, absolutely. But the second one was unnecessary. Everyone gets frustrated out there, but that’s up to the official.”

In the last 25 seconds of the first half, Paul was switched onto Kevin Durant at the top of the key. He committed a foul defending a blowby, disagreed with it, and harassed crew chief Scott Foster until he was reprimanded for unsportsmanlike conduct, per the NBA’s Pool Report.

The 30th-year ref walked away, but Paul insisted on agitating him vocally and was quickly given a second T, also for unsportsmanlike conduct. Next, Foster was stalked, pointed at, and called a “bitch” repeatedly by the former president of the Players’ Association and supposedly fun-loving good neighbor. Then Kerr had the nerve to verbally undress Foster because he wasn’t going to take disrespect in front of thousands by Paul.

“That’s bullshit,” he yelled at least twice, subsequently getting dishonored with his own T.

There’s no word yet on how annoyed ABC is that little Timmy at home next to his parents had to witness a scene more appropriate for Jerry Springer on the Disney airwaves.

Devin Booker took three freebies before Durant could finish his trip to the charity line. Without the point goon, the Warriors were outscored by eight in the second half and lost 123-115.

The Warriors, a team already undermanned because Draymond Green put an MMA move on Rudy Gobert on Nov. 14, was 2-7 in its last chunk of matches before dueling in Phoenix. No matter to CP, whose drama needed precedent over a potential win on the road.

When it was his turn at the presser, he said it was personal. He also revealed a story about a meeting with a situation regarding his son attended by his father, coach Doc Rivers, Bob Delaney and Foster, when he was still a Clipper. “It’s still been a thing for a while,” he said.

He later repeated, “Don’t use a [technical foul] to get your point across.” But he ignored the one Foster made.

Well, well, well. What more proof is needed that the guy who got laid out by Green before last season (Jordan Poole) and was later shipped out unfairly wasn’t the problem? It’s not even Green. It’s Kerr. Under his watch since punch-gate, the Warriors have struggled in the regular season like they never had aside from two badly plagued injury years.

This is not to say he’s not a sharp strategist, but his voice must be lacking bass since his guys just can’t worry about the game.


Kawhi Leonard steps to the line for a deuce and is serenaded with boos from his old supporters with three minutes left in the first half. Here comes holier than thou Pop, hijacking the PA announcer’s microphone, claiming it’s indecent to boo the man whose reputation he destroyed in town. Spectators rushed to gush online, and ESPN’s coverage in Español stopped short of labeling him a folk hero.

At the postgame presser, he said his announcement was about not “poking the bear.” As if the Clippers, who had demolished the Spurs twice for a combined 65 points before Wednesday night, needed his help.

Here’s the deal: As Peter Vecsey broke on the Duke Loves Rasslin Show, Pop tried to bully Leonard into playing while hurt and risk his future earning potential in the process so he could drag Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker through one last blaze of glory. By that time, counting the impact of NBA years, the OGs were as old as the current Rolling Stones.

Benedict Parker even mouthed off to the press that his quad injury was a “hundred times worse.” It’s clear to anyone that does their homework that Leonard was slandered by shills, Michelle Beadle (then on ESPN) and Bruce Bowen (then a CLIPPERS broadcaster), promoting the Spurs’ propaganda because he wouldn’t back down on his principles: playing hurt is for suckers and there ain’t much without respect.

A lot of San Antonians digested Parker, Beadle and Bowen’s crap, never questioning it because of blind allegiance to guess who?

“It’s got no class. It’s not who we are…,” Pop said.

And who is the coach to tell fans who paid good money how to express themselves if it’s within the rules? If he wanted to say anything profound, he should have divulged that he’s the man to boo.

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Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Undermanned Heat end Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak

One hundred and thirty-nine nights after signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Max Strus hosted his old pals at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and got showed up. Comically, he and Jimmy Butler aimed middle fingers at each other and then hugged before tipoff. The Heat, minus its two main centers and without Tyler Herro (out since Nov. 11), established control early and never conceded the lead.

The Cavaliers weren’t phased much early against man coverage, recording 26 points on 10 of 19 shots. Yet, it failed to stop Kyle Lowry from splashing five triples, a season-high, in the first quarter. He bombarded in transition and in the half-court at the wings when Cleveland over-helped. Thomas Bryant, Orlando Robinson and Butler each stole the ball and pushed the pace, racking nine fastbreak points.

Duncan Robinson guarded Strus around handoffs, forcing misses in the lane and at the wing. But the visitors’ biggest issue was Evan Mobley, who ran the floor for a putback in transition, scored from the dunker spot and took Butler off the dribble from the top to the cup.

Through 12 minutes, the Heat had a 37-26 lead, with Butler making a fifth of his tries. In the second quarter, Jaime Jaquez Jr. stormed Jarrett Allen in drop coverage for an eight-foot floater, hit a turnaround hook over the same guy (who has a five-inch height advantage) on the next possession, then connected on a left-wing catch-and-release triple when the closeout was late. Josh Richarson supplied two additional trifectas and a fadeaway over two-way rookie Craig Porter Jr., as the Heat’s next scoring leader of the quarter.

Still in the second, Miami forced seven more giveaways that turned into 10 extra points off mistakes and recovered three offensive rebounds that developed into nine second-chance points.

Strus finally got loose in each corner when Miami sagged off, and Mobley cracked the zone in the middle and slammed a lob from Darius Garland. Yet, on one play before intermission, Heat guard Dru Smith hurt his right leg when it landed to the side of the elevated court by the Cavs’ bench. His night ended there, and he was helped to the locker room.

At halftime, Miami led 69-55, with 21 points scored off Cleveland’s blunders and 14 assists to 4 turnovers.

In the third, Butler missed four attempts in a row but contributed by attracting extra attention on drive for the kickout triple to Haywood Highsmith and found Lowry for two supplemental 3-pointers. JJJ burned the Cavs with a corner tray when Cleveland scrambled after blitzing Lowry up top, then drove at Emoni Bates’ chest for a layup.

Defensively, the Heat forced four fresh turnovers when doubling and playing tight in single coverage. A steal by O. Robinson on Caris LeVert off a blitz angered the Cavalier so much that he verbally went at referee Brandon Adair and created a five-on-four for Miami and was hit with a technical foul. He kept going, then official Gediminas Petraitis issued his second, and he was gone.

At the start of the final interval, Cleveland’s coach J.B. Bickerstaff gave up, putting out four bench players on the court with his club down 22. Three of those four ( Damian Jones, Sam Merrill and Emoni Bates) are his bottom-shelf options.

Miami took a 30-point lead within minutes and finished the fourth quarter, making 11 of 19 baskets.

The Heat won 129-96. Lowry had 28 points on 60% shooting, and Jaquez had 22 on seven of 10 attempts.

When asked about Adebayo’s absence, Lowry said in his on-court interview that his center is irreplaceable but that he and the squad needed to get more open shots up regardless of him being out. “Tonight, we got an opportunity, and we didn’t pass them up.”

At the postgame presser, Spoelstra said there wouldn’t be an update on Smith until the team could do a scan. He also praised O. Robinson and Bryant’s minutes filling for #13. “We have more depth at those frontcourt positions than we’ve had probably in some of the previous years. We just really commend Thomas and [O. Robinson] for staying ready. This league is not easy when you are worthy enough to play and you are not playing….Both of those guys gave us great minutes.”

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Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat bounce back in Chicago, going 1-1 in miniseries

Two nights after the Heat’s fourth-quarter meltdown in Chicago, Zach LaVine’s insouciance assisted the visitors in trouncing the Bulls. Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson carbonized opponents from the outside and in. And the bench mob thwacked the hosts, outscoring the rival reserves 42-21.

The Heatles were on track to log 129.7 points per 100 possessions, but garbage time began early, and luckily for the home fans, it only got 91 opportunities.

Robinson swished 11 points in four minutes off catch-and-shoot trays in the wings and corners, plus a fastbreak layup. Jimmy Butler exploited LaVine in the post and hit a running baby hook in the lane. It wasn’t quite like Magic Johnson nailing the hook versus the Celtics in Game 4 of the ‘87 Finals, but still impressive in front of Torrey Craig.

Defensively, the Heat gave up two triples early because of miscommunication and not picking up the shooter before the catch. It also surrendered the midrange through pick and pop and dribble penetration.

In the second quarter, Miami deployed its 2-2-1 press to slow down Chicago’s offense up the court and the 2-3 zone, tempting poor shots. DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams recorded four consecutive baskets for Chicago, but following that, Miami held the Bulls to five of 16 makes to close the half. In that stretch, the Heat contested cleanly from deep, installed strict drop coverage in man defense, blitzed the ball handler, and Butler denied Alex Caruso’s putback by sticking it to the glass.

On the attack, Kevin Love splashed three triples straight away. Jaime Jaquez Jr. got DeRozan off him in the corner with his jab step, canning a trifecta, then took LaVine off the dribble to the cup and hit a fader in the low post over Coby White. And Adebayo logged a floater in the lane against the zone and slammed a lob through the middle from JJJ when DeRozan and Andre Drummond doubled the ball.

At halftime, the Heat was up 65-53, with nine points off turnovers and 29 supplied by the bench. In contrast, the Bulls’ reserves had 13 on the scorecard and, as a unit, just 14 in the paint. Of course, LaVine, over his Chicago tenure at everyone’s expense, provided a deficient four attempts.

In the third quarter, Butler missed a few close-range baskets and two outside the paint, but his teammates carried him. Adebayo destroyed Nikola Vučević with his jumper at the elbow and drove at him. Kyle Lowry bailed out a broken possession with a left-wing 3-pointer and made another in the corner when Butler attracted four Bulls.

For Chicago, LaVine’s lethargy waned, barely, taking four triples and making two but still refusing to attack the basket in over 10 minutes. DeRozan, Vučević and White kept the hosts from getting humiliated by the invaders, as they combined for seven of 14 shots.

The Heat started the fourth with a 12-point lead. Robinson delivered the first blow, curling behind Adebayo for a corner triple, then hit two more on the wings. Jaquez recovered two offensive rebounds that turned into one of D-Bo’s bangers and a dunk for Adebayo.

In the last interval, the Heat’s offense struggled, making 38.9% of its ventures. For the season, it is averaging 40.7% efficiency with 3.6 turnovers. But the defense permitted Chicago 19 points on 40% shooting and forced five giveaways.

Coach Erik Spoelstra used only three starters in the fourth- Haywood Highsmith, Robinson and Adebayo. From the bench, Caleb Martin and Josh Richardson played every minute, while Dru Smith and Orlando Robinson entered in garbage time.

The Heat won 118-100. It pulled down 55.2% of available rebounds and scored 12 second-chance points.

Love handled the on-court interview. He said part of the game plan was about getting stops in transition. “We [feel] like our defense continues to trend in the right direction, and if we get stops, if we just play with pace, there’s so many good things that can come out of that…”

In the presser, Spoelstra referenced Saturday’s match and said there is an opportunity for improvement after tough losses. “We were all very disappointed how the fourth quarter went the other night. We felt we were in control for a large part of the game and ended up losing the game. That can humble you and it’s really [about] the approach after that. I thought we had a very professional [practice] to try to get better at those things that had been costing us some of these fourth-quarter leads…”

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Jalen Ramsey seals the win for the Dolphins with a leaping interception, his second of the game.

Pressure Point: Rise of defense bodes well for Dolphins’ late-season hopes

The most positive aspect of the Miami Dolphins’ gritty 20-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders was that the players most responsible for the outcome weren’t named Tua, Tyreek or Raheem.

Instead it was a superlative defensive effort led by Jalen Ramsey, Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler. But really, there were honorable mentions throughout defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s unit, which repeatedly bailed out a mistake-prone offense, that won the day.

The defense limited the Raiders to two field goals off of three Dolphins turnovers, two of them in Miami territory.

It took fourth-quarter interceptions by Phillips (aided by Wilkins hitting quarterback Aidan O’Connell) and Ramsey to finally put away a Raiders team that has been revitalized under interim coach Antonio Pierce.

It was arguably the most significant result so far for the 7-3 Dolphins. Much more than the 70-20 shellacking of the Broncos or any of the other one-sided wins in the first half of the season.

It bodes well for Miami in what lies ahead over the final seven games of the season. Because a stalwart defense is going to be essential during a stretch run that includes the Jets (twice), Cowboys, Ravens and Bills, as well as the Titans and Commanders.

Ramsey saves day for Dolphins

There is every reason to have faith in a Miami defense that has been trending upward in recent weeks, particularly since the return of Ramsey, who showed All-Pro form with two interceptions, including a spectacular acrobatic grab in the end zone that finally extinguished Vegas hopes.

“I’m really hoping they throw at him, honestly. I mean, both interceptions were out of control in difficulty level,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said of Ramsey. “I think the whole team has gotten a little bit better to a degree since he’s been on our team or since he’s been back and that’s the type of effect that players of that caliber can have on people.”

It was all needed on an uncharacteristic day for the offense. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns. But he also lost a fumble and threw an interception.

Tyreek Hill dazzled as usual, with 146 yards on 10 receptions, including a 38-yard runaway touchdown.

But Miami struggled to get the running game going. Exciting rookie De’Von Achane was lost early to another knee injury. Starting right guard Robert Hunt was out with an injury.

Raheem Mostert averaged a subpar 3.9 yards a carry in grinding out a tough 86 yards. But he couldn’t make enough headway on the final two drives when the Dolphins could have put the game away, and instead punted both times.

Mistakes hamper Dolphins offense

In fact, Miami punted on all three of its possession in the fourth quarter before the game-ending kneel down.

It was the defense that got the job done in impressive fashion. In the second half, Raiders possessions ended with three punts, three interceptions and a failed fourth down.

No wonder I felt most confident in Miami’s chances when the defense was on the field. The only blemish was allowing Davante Adams to get deep for a 46-yard touchdown pass from O’Connell. Otherwise, the Dolphins limited Adams, a likely future hall-of-famer, to 36 yards on his other six catches.

It sure helps having elite cornerbacks Ramsey and Xavien Howard, with 10 Pro Bowl selections between them, finally on the field together and performing as envisioned.
No. 3 corner Kader Kohou had one of his better games, including breaking up a third-down pass for Adams and a tackle for a loss.

Standout emerge on defense for Dolphins

Meanwhile, linebacker Bradley Chubb has emerged as a major disrupter and dominant force of the front seven, effectively quieting criticism of his lackluster performance in his first partial season with Miami after being acquired from Denver and given a $110 million extension in November 2022. Reunited with Fangio, Chubb has five sacks in the past five games.

“I think that there’s a lot of very prideful, very high-quality players on that side of the ball, and you figure it’s just a matter of time with the way that our defense is orchestrated from a coaching perspective, starting with Vic [Fangio],” McDaniel said about the improvement of the defense.

Cohesive defensive effort stymies Raiders

What stood out Sunday was an overall cohesive effort by an improving Miami defense that came into the game ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense, allowing an average of 322.4 yards per game. They limited the Raiders to 296 yards.

But most important, the Dolphins defense pitched a much-needed shutout in the second half while the offense managed only two field goals after the intermission.
Ramsey was asked after the game if he feels this is a defensive team now?

“No, no, I don’t never like to say nothing like that. It’s just a team. We’re all together. At times they’re going to have our back, at times we’ve got to have their back,” Ramsey said. “We do have to play a little bit better complementary football at times, and we’ll continue striving to do that and be that team that we feel like we can be.”

That is what it will take to hold onto the AFC East lead and with the division for the first time in 15 years in the face of a challenging finish to the season.

Dolphins can’t quell doubts as comeback fizzles in Frankfurt

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.