Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry were missing. But the Miami Heat’s defense still was there, as was the strength in numbers.
Ultimately, that was all that was needed Tuesday night at FTX Arena to close out Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks.
Turning up the heat in the absence of two leading men, Erik Spoelstra’s team pushed past the Hawks 97-94 to win the best-of-seven opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series 4-1, surviving an uneven finish.
“This was just a really inspiring team win,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody that played had their fingerprints on this. We clearly had some adversity in this game, not having Kyle and Jimmy, and our group doesn’t even blink.”
Next up is the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors series that the 76ers lead 3-2 heading into Thursday night’s Game 6 in Toronto.
An added bonus is additional rest for Butler, who missed the game with knee inflammation, and Lowry, who missed his second consecutive game due to a hamstring strain, with the Heat’s next series not to open until Monday at FTX Arena.
“The next couple of days we’ll just watch what’s going on,” Spoelstra said.
Tickets for that series go on sale to the general public beginning 4 p.m. Wednesday.
In the other Eastern Conference semifinal, the Boston Celtics will host the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Chicago Bulls series that the Bucks lead 3-1.
Lacking Butler and Lowry, the Heat turned up their defense while getting ensemble contributions.
There were 20 points and 11 rebounds from Bam Adebayo, as well as 23 points from Victor Oladipo, who started in place of Butler, 16 from Tyler Herro and 15 from Max Strus.
“This,” Strus said, “is nothing new for us. When one guy goes down, the next man steps up.”
For the Hawks there were 35 points from De’Andre Hunter, with Young closing with 11 points on 2-of-12 shooting.
The Heat held the Hawks to .419 shooting Tuesday and forced 19 turnovers.
“Defensively,” Spoelstra said, “there were some incredibly inspiring plays.”
Five Degrees of Heat from Tuesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Hawks led 22-21 at the end of the first quarter, before the Heat then moved to a 54-42 halftime lead, ending the second quarter on a 20-4 run.
Atlanta responded by opening the third quarter on an 8-0 run to move within 54-50, leading to a Heat timeout 2:24 into the second half. The Heat countered to move to a 15-point lead, before taking a 75-64 advantage into the fourth.
The Heat then went up 13 early in the fourth, before Atlanta closed within 79-76 with 8:14 to play.
The Heat got the lead back to 10 midway through the period, but the Hawks continued to close, with a pair of Hunter baskets bringing the Hawks within 95-93 with 1:14 left.
Adebayo countered with a dunk with 59.2 seconds left to push the Heat lead to four.
Ultimately, the Hawks wound up in possession with 5.2 seconds left down three, after the Heat unsuccessful challenged an out-of-bounds call and then Atlanta called its final timeout.
A Hawks turnover followed, ending it.
“I thought it was fitting, too, that we had to get a stop at the end to win it,” Spoelstra said.
Or, as Adebayo said, after ending the game with the ball in his hands, “Heat fashion. Defense.”
2. Strus gone wild: The Heat went to a fullcourt press off an Atlanta timeout with 2:36 left in the second period and the result was 10 consecutive Heat points by Strus in a span of 67 seconds, pushing the Heat to a 49-40 lead.
“I didn’t even know I did that,” Strus said afterward. “That was fun, though.”
First, with 2:29 left in the first half, Strus scored on a put-back dunk.
Then, with 2:25 to go in the second quarter, after a Hawks inbounding turnover, Strus converted a 3-pointer.
With 1:47 left in the half, Strus converted another 3-pointer.
And with 1:22 to play in the second quarter, Strus converted a transition layup.
“He got uncorked,” Spoelstra said of Strus, “and that was a great play.”
A flagrant foul on Hawks center Clint Capela followed, putting Adebayo to the line for a pair of free throws that pushed the Heat lead to 51-40.
A 3-point play by Gabe Vincent, who started in place of Lowry, followed to cap the Heat’s 17-0 surge.
“Hair on fire,” was Spoelstra’s description of the surge.
3. Explosive start: If there were questions about Oladipo’s surgically repaired leg and his remaining explosiveness, they were answered early.
Oladipo opened 4 of 4 from the field, with a driving layup, a banked layup, a pull-up jumper from the foul line and a spinning transition finish at the rim.
That already had him with one more basket than in his 23:04 in Game 4, his only other previous appearance this postseason.
He was up to 13 points by the intermission.
“Vic was really good again,” Spoelstra said.
He closed 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 6 on 3-pointers.
“We’re just thrilled for him,” Spoelstra said. “Vic came out like gangbusters.”
All a year removed from preparing for quadriceps surgery.
“I’m staying in the moment,” Oladipo said, “and making every moment mean something.
“I couldn’t control the circumstance, but I would control my approach.”
4. Trae torment: Even without the defense of Butler and Lowry, the Heat continued to make things miserable for Young, this time with the Hawks guard 1 of 7 from the field in the first half, for five points.
The Heat needed that defense, after shooting 3 of 14 on 3-pointers in the first half.
Young’s frustration ultimately led to a technical foul with 5:11 to play.
“We had a great game plan,” Strus said. “Spo put together a great game plan and guys executed it.”
Young closed the series .319 from the field and .184 on 3-pointers, averaging 15.4 points.
“It’s fully borne out of great respect,” Spoelstra said of his team’s commitment to stopping Young. “Our guys were really committed to that side of the floor through these five games.”
5. Odd moment: The Heat’s Markieff Morris received an unsportsmanlike technical foul with 7:06 left in the third quarter.
Even though he was not in the game.
Even though he did not play in the series.
Reaching out during a scramble for a loose ball in front of the Heat bench, Morris made contact with Atlanta’s Hunter, with the officials calling for video review.
That resulted in a successful free throw from Young, with Young then committing a turnover to end the possession.
Morris remained on the Heat bench after the incident.
Source: Berkshire mont