Heat coach Erik Spoelstra compared James Jones to a relief pitcher in baseball.
When called in from the bullpen Sunday afternoon, Jones came in throwing strikes.
Jones had perhaps the biggest impact of Miami’s bench players in Sunday’s 99-88 win over visiting Charlotte in the Heat’s 2014 postseason opener.
“We didn’t know we would need to get that deep into the rotation,” Spoelstra said moments after Jones finished with 12 points in 14 minutes 11 seconds.
“I love the guys on our bench because they keep themselves ready. You never know when that kind of opportunity is going to happen.
“You have to be able to produce, and it’s not easy.”
Jones didn’t log much playing time in last year’s run to the championship.
When he checked in with 4:19 left in the second quarter, it marked his first playoff game since Game 5 of the 2013 Finals in San Antonio.
Last season, Jones scored three points in three of the nine postseason games he appeared in.
For Jones, finding himself at the end of the bench before suddenly being asked to help out is something he’s used to. It’s not something he necessarily likes, but he has been dealing with it for some time.
“I’ve been in this role for a couple of years here, and I think the difficult times in dealing with it have passed,” said Jones, a former Miami American High standout who was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame earlier this month.
“I’m a competitor, and I play this game to play and to win. [On Sunday], I got a chance to do both.”
Jones replaced Chris Andersen late in the second quarter with the Heat leading by one.
Jones got two rebounds and an assist in his first minute of play before scoring his first points on a layup after Mario Chalmers stole the ball at midcourt and fed him after drawing a pair of defenders.
With 50 seconds left, Jones drew a foul on a three-point shot from the corner and hit two of three free throws to give Miami an 11-point lead.
“I was a little surprised, we have had a very solid rotation all year,” Jones said. “I was expecting us, with the need for energy, for one of our reserves to come in. Coach called my number and asked me to bring some energy, make some shots. That’s what I did.”
By the time he replaced Udonis Haslem in the third, Charlotte had closed to a tie. Jones gave the Heat yet another spark, and his three-pointer with 45.1 seconds left in the period put Miami up six.
“We were a little lethargic,” Jones said, “but we bounced back. We have 15 real NBA-talented guys and in the playoffs, all bets are off.
“You have to do whatever it takes to win.”
Jones is in his sixth season with the Heat and quickly dismissed thoughts of retirement after Miami’s first title in 2012.
Although he hasn’t seen much playing time this year — Sunday’s game was just the eighth time he has received 14-plus minutes this season — Jones knows where he stands with the Heat.
“He’s a unique guy, and we learned that early on during the pre-Big 3 team,” Spoelstra said. “You can bring him out of the bullpen, and not many guys have that kind of mentality. He understands the big-picture stuff and is willing to sacrifice. He doesn’t have an ego in that regard, but he has an incredible amount of confidence when he gets out there. That’s a tough balance.”
Now what about Wednesday?
Spoelstra said Jones could go back to riding the bench for much of the night in Game 2 against the Bobcats. Or maybe he won’t.
“I don’t know,” Spoelstra said.
“You can say we rode the hot hand.”
Indeed, one LeBron James thinks will come up big for Miami as he compared Jones to the departed Mike Miller as a potential Heat playoff hero.
“He’s a key ingredient to our success in this postseason,” James said. “We’re a different team than last year. Obviously, without Mike Miller on this team, J.J. is going to be able to fill that void.”