Jimmy Butler returns as Heat push past Hawks, 124-118

By Ira Winderman

MIAMI — How hot were the Miami Heat at home entering Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks?

Drake spent the game seated across from the Heat bench as they went for a seventh consecutive FTX Arena victory.

From there, he watched former Toronto Raptors buddy Kyle Lowry and the Heat continue their torrid run, with a 124-118 victory over the Hawks.

With Jimmy Butler returning to score a decisive late basket, the Heat overcame blowing an early 17-point lead and recovered from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to make it nine victories in their last 11 games.

Back from his ankle sprain, Butler closed with 23 points and 10 assists. There also was a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double from center Omer Yurtseven, as well as 24 points from Tyler Herro, 16 from Max Strus and 13 points and eight assists from Lowry, who passed Kobe Bryant for 31st on the NBA all-time assist list.

Five Degrees of Heat from Friday’s game:

— 1. Closing time: The Heat went into the fourth quarter down 99-94, trimming one point from their halftime deficit.

A four-point possession later trimmed the Heat deficit to 112-111 with 4:33 left, after Herro converted a free throw on an away-from-the-ball foul and then drained a 3-pointer. A minute later, Lowry tied it 114-114 with a 3-pointer.

A pair of Trae Young free throws later moved the Hawks to a 118-116 lead, before P.J. Tucker got to the line for the Heat with 1:23 remaining for his first free throws of the night, converting both for a 118-118 tie.

From there, Caleb Martin drew a charge on Young with 61 seconds to play, with Herro then getting to the line with 46 seconds to go, making both for a 120-118 lead.

A Hawks turnover followed on the ensuing inbounds play, with a driving Butler layup putting the Heat up 122-118 with 22.3 seconds left.

A missed Hawks 3-pointer followed, effectively ending it.

— 2. Butler back: Butler was back after missing the previous three games with an ankle sprain, as well as 18 of the previous 30 due to injuries.

He set an early tone with seven points and four assists in his opening stint and stood with 15 points and five assists at halftime.

With Butler making all nine of his free throws, he tied his career-best streak of 38 in a row.

— 3. New reality: Two weeks ago, when the Heat played the Houston Rockets, the only reserves available for the Heat was a group of six players cobbled together on emergency 10-day contracts (Kyle Guy, Chris Silva, Haywood Highsmith, Nik Stauskas, Mario Chalmers and Aric Holman).

Friday night, the Heat’s bench included Herro, Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin, Dewayne Dedmon and Gabe Vincent.

The depth was such that Silva was among Friday night’s inactives.

— 4. Bench brigade: Because of that newfound depth, Erik Spoelstra went with a rare all-reserve unit to close the first quarter.

Instead of staggering at least one starter, Spoelstra went with a lineup of Dedmon, Martin, Robinson, Herro and Vincent.

It proved to be a unit decidedly lacking on the defensive end, with Atlanta closing what had been a 17-point deficit to 40-30 at the close of the opening period.

Spoelstra then also started the second period with that unit, with the lead down to four before Lowry was the first starter to return. By the time Spoelstra had four starters back, the Hawks had taken the lead.

Spoelstra later opened the fourth quarter with four reserves.

— 5. Strus at the start: After breaking open Wednesday night’s victory with the game’s first eight points of that second half, Strus this time was up to 11 points before the Hawks called the game’s first timeout, with 6:30 left in the opening period.

Strus opened 3 of 3 on 3-pointers to help the Heat to a 20-8 lead at that first stoppage.

It was the fourth consecutive game Strus started ahead of Duncan Robinson.

Strus was up to 16 points before he was given his first rest with 2:55 left in the opening period.

But with Spoelstra cycling through so many reserves, Strus did not score again, missing time in the interim to treat a laceration beneath his right eye.


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