MIAMI – Jimmy Butler left the floor after his night’s work was done, threw his arms in the air and heard a sold-out arena serenade him with shouts.
This did not happen in the bubble two years ago, since no one was there.
But Butler was just as good on Tuesday night as he was on that bubble run — and the Miami Heat needed all of his exploits.
Butler scored a playoff career-high 45 points, including a personal 7-0 run to decide the game, and the Heat held off the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 in Game 2 of their first-round series of the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night.
“We’re going as he is,” Heat guard Gabe Vincent said.
Butler was 15 of 25 from the floor, 11 of 12 from the line and 4 of 7 from 3-point range. As such, the top-seeded Heat will travel to Atlanta with a 2-0 lead.
Tyler Herro scored 15 for Miami, while Max Strus scored 14 and Vincent added 11 for top-seeded Miami.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 19 of his 29 fourth quarter points for Atlanta. Trae Young regained his scoring touch – he had 25 points in Game 2, after being limited to eight in Game 1 – but also had the 10-worst career turnovers for the eighth-seeded Hawks.
“If the referees are going to let them be as physical as they are and not call fouls, it’s going to be hard to really do anything anyway,” Young said.
De’Andre Hunter had 16 and John Collins finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks.
Butler’s previous postseason record was 40, achieved twice, both in the bubble when the Heat made the 2020 NBA Finals. The Heat needed all of their heroics then, and they needed them too. every Tuesday.
Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer with 3:15 left put Atlanta up 104-101.
From there, it was all Butler.
“A great basketball from a great basketball player, one of the best two-way players in the game,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said.
Butler had a dunk, a 3-pointer and another dunk – all in the space of 56 seconds – to turn things from doubt to lockdown, putting Miami up 10 with 1:20 remaining and guaranteeing the Heat would finish victory.
“Just stay aggressive,” Butler said. “Take what the defense gives me.”
As you would expect in a playoff series, jokes started to be exchanged with more regularity. The first half featured 16 fouls from Atlanta and 14 from Miami – a season-high for the Hawks, a season-high for the Heat, and those 30 encounters didn’t even include a technical double that Lowry and Hunter have got to get face to face.
Young also picked up a technical for pleading a foul against him late in the third, capping him at a time when the Heat went from barely ahead to holding a double-digit lead in the final 12 minutes. He played the entire third quarter, but only managed two shots in that period – doing both – and failed to reach the foul line, while committing five turnovers in that period alone. .
“I think the difference in tonight’s game was the turnovers,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “You can’t have 19 turnovers in a playoff game and expect to win games. He came in transition…and I thought that was the difference.
The first half was back and forth, the game was over for much of those first quarters and Kevin Huerter’s 3-point pullback with 8:59 left in the third pulled Atlanta to 64 -62. The Hawks went nearly three minutes without scoring again, and the game looked very different after those three minutes.
The Heat went 4-for-4 in that streak – 3-pointers from Butler, PJ Tucker and Strus, with a layup from Butler as well – and that added to an 11-0 run that pushed the advance to 75-62. The margin remained at least eight points for the next 11 minutes, before Atlanta began to recover.
Young hit Collins with a strike for a layup, and Bogdanovic’s long jumper put Atlanta up 94-90 midway through the fourth.
But the Hawks never took the lead. Butler took care of it. He said a Monday night conversation with Tucker resonated — Tucker basically told him to score more — and Butler clearly listened.
“Just the elite two-way basketball he showcased tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Hawks: Atlanta had three players (Hunter, Huerter and Bogdanovic) with three fouls at halftime for only the second time this season. The other was Jan. 14 – also in Miami. … Among the adjustments the Hawks tried: Collins started Game 2 and Huerter opened the game keeping Lowry.
Heat: Duncan Robinson, who had eight 3s and 27 points in Game 1, went without a shot in seven minutes. …Football legend David Beckham was present. … Going back to the end of the regular season, Miami is 8-1 in its last nine games. … Miami is now 5-1 against Atlanta this season.
Teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven game have ultimately won the series 92.4% of the time. The Hawks have never rallied 0-2 in a series (0-25) and the Heat have never lost a 2-0 lead (17-0) – but there have been four such rallies in the last season’s playoffs, two by the Los Angeles Clippers and two more by Milwaukee.
Atlanta now hosts Games 3 and 4. As of Jan. 17, the Hawks are NBA-leading 20-3 at home.
Game 3 is Friday in Atlanta.
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