Coup’s Takeaways: Jimmy Butler Returns, Closes Out Hawks
1. Last season the HEAT beat the Hawks in the first game of a two-game series, only for Atlanta to change coaches in between and take the second. This year almost played out the same way, substituting a trade for Atlanta instead of a change in leadership, but the HEAT rallied for a 124-118 victory after trailing for most of the second half with contributions from everyone – Caleb Martin taking a clutch charge, Tyler Herro hitting crucial shots, a huge three from Kyle Lowry, big free-throws from P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler adding plenty of big plays in his return to the lineup. The Hawks made the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but it was Miami that looked like the more veteran, poised team down the stretch.
This wasn’t Herro’s (24 points) best game of the season or even his flashiest, but it might be at the front of the file for why he’s so important for this team. He represents Miami’s greatest source of offensive volatility, in the best way possible, injecting life into the offense whenever it gets bogged down, taking quick shots nobody else is going to take and always being a threat down the stretch of close games. In the last five minutes he scored six points, but it was a third-quarter three with eight seconds left that prevented the HEAT from starting down a double-digit deficit with 12 minutes to play.
And credit to Omer Yurtseven (17 points, 11 rebounds) for his second-half performance. He’s had his struggles finishing in the paint against size, but after scoring just 5 in the first half, he scored 10 in the first six minutes of the third on a variety of right and left-handed touch shots – adding another score during a crucial stretch in the fourth. As Adebayo returns Yurtseven stands to see his minutes reduced, but it’s little flashes like tonight where a player appears to be developing what had been a weakness that do nothing but add promise to his future.
2. Jimmy Butler returned and looked exactly like Jimmy Butler (23 points, 10 assists), especially on both a late help-side block on Trae Young and a finish through John Collins to give the HEAT a four-point lead with 22 seconds left. No surprise there, but his return and the reportedly imminent return of Bam Adebayo signals a shift back to the full-strength team, at least much closer to it, we saw in the first few weeks of the season. There may be some adjustment that comes with that shift, perhaps best represented by a pair of hit-ahead passes gone awry as Kyle Lowry looked for his favorite downfield target. Miami’s offense was just fine, great even for stretches, but the 10 first-half turnovers and some occasional clogged spacing in the middle of the floor were symptoms of lineups that hadn’t much time together.
3. If it’s offense you enjoy, this was a first half for you. The HEAT started off 4-of-4 from three, because of course they did, with Max Strus scoring 16 points in the first eight minutes. They finished the quarter with their fifth 40-point period of the season – more than they had all of last year – and a double-digit lead. But the Hawks quickly rallied with their bench, eventually pouring in 40 of their own in the second to take a 70-64 halftime lead.
In total, the teams combined to take just eight shots in the restricted area in the first half with just two of those coming from Miami. Each side had a healthy amount of free-throws, but consider those interior numbers when we say that the Hawks (142.9) and HEAT (131.3) each put up Offensive Ratings that qualify as the best in a month for some teams. It’s what Miami’s philosophy, on either end of the court, can turn the game into at times. They’ll get a lot of threes, but they’ll also give them up on the other end. It would have been a lot to ask of Atlanta, the No. 5 offense in the league, to stay as cold in they did in the first meeting last Wednesday, when the HEAT started the third quarter on a 19-2 run.