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Jimmy Butler walked off the floor when his night’s work was complete, lifted his arms in the air and heard a sold-out arena serenade him with screams.
That didn’t happen in the bubble two years ago, since nobody was there.
But Butler was every bit as good Tuesday night as he was during that bubble run — and the Miami Heat needed all his heroics.
Butler scored a playoff career-high 45 points, including a personal 7-0 run down the stretch to decide the game, and the Heat held off the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Tuesday night.
“We go as he goes,” Heat guard Gabe Vincent said.
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Butler was 15 of 25 from the floor, 11 for 12 from the line and 4 of 7 from 3-point range. As such, the top-seeded Heat are going 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 points in the fourth quarter for Atlanta. Trae Young got his scoring touch back — he had 25 points in Game 2, after being held to eight in Game 1 — but also had a career-worst 10 turnovers for the eighth-seeded Hawks.
“If the refs 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 anyways,” Young said.
De’Andre Hunter had 16 and John Collins finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks.
Butler’s previous playoff best was 40, done twice, both in the bubble when the Heat made the 2020 NBA Finals. The Heat needed all of his heroics then, and they needed them all on Tuesday as well.
Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer with 3:15 left got Atlanta within 104-101.
From there, it was all Butler.
“Big-time basketball from a big-time 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 span of 56 seconds — to turn things from in doubt to locked down, putting Miami up 10 with 1:20 remaining and ensuring the Heat would finish off the win.
“Just staying aggressive,” Butler said. “Taking what the defense gives me.”
As would be expected in a playoff series, pleasantries began being exchanged with more regularity. The first half featured 16 fouls by Atlanta and 14 by Miami — a season-high for the Hawks, one off the season-high for the Heat, and those 30 personals didn’t even include a double technical that Lowry and Hunter got for getting face-to-face.
Young picked up a technical for arguing a foul against him late in the third as well, the capper to a period where the Heat went from barely ahead to holders of a double-digit lead going into the final 12 minutes. He played the entire third quarter, but managed only two shots in that span — making both — and didn’t get to the foul line, while committing five turnovers in that period alone.
“I think the difference in the game tonight was turnovers,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “You can’t have 19 turnovers in a playoff game and expect to win games. They scored 21 points off of our turnovers. A lot of those came in transition … and I thought that was the difference.”
The first half was back and forth, the game close for much of those opening quarters, and Kevin Huerter’s stepback 3-pointer with 8:59 left in the third pulled Atlanta within 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 stretch — 3-pointers by Butler, P.J. Tucker and Strus, with a layup by Butler in there as well — and it added up to an 11-0 run that pushed the lead out to 75-62. The margin remained at least eight points for the next 11 minutes, before Atlanta began clawing back.
Young hit Collins with a strike for a layup, and Bogdanovic’s long jumper got Atlanta within 94-90 midway through the fourth.
But the Hawks never got the lead. Butler saw to that. He said a Monday night conversation with Tucker resonated — Tucker basically told him to score more — and Butler clearly listened.
“Just elite two-way basketball that he exhibited tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Hawks: Atlanta had three players (Hunter, Huerter and Bogdanovic) with three fouls by halftime for only the second time this season. The other was Jan. 14 — also at Miami. … Among the adjustments the Hawks tried: Collins started Game 2, and Huerter opened the game guarding Lowry.
Heat: Duncan Robinson, who made eight 3’s and scored 27 points in Game 1, went without a shot in seven minutes. … Soccer legend David Beckham was in attendance. … 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 matchup have eventually won the series 92.4% of the time. The Hawks have never rallied from 0-2 down in a series (0-25) and the Heat have never wasted a 2-0 lead (17-0) — but there were four such rallies in last season’s playoffs, two by the Los Angeles Clippers and two others by Milwaukee.
Atlanta now plays host to games 3 and 4. Since Jan. 17, the Hawks are an NBA-best 20-3 at home.
Game 3 is Friday in Atlanta.