It was not about style points. This was about wanting to see Atlanta permanently in their rearview mirror for the 2022 playoffs.
So in the absence of their floor leader, the Miami Heat returned to their defensive roots and chose the grits instead of beautiful as they switched to a 110-86 victory Sunday night over the Hawks at State Farm Arena.
With 3-1 in the best of seven opening rounds of the Eastern Conference playoff series, the Heat have the opportunity to close that Tuesday at. 19 at the FTX Arena. Otherwise, it’s a return to Atlanta for a Thursday game 6.
“We had to find another way to win this match,” said coach Erik Spoelstra. “A lot of it was our defensive toughness and versatility.”
With point guard Kyle Lowry on the sidelines of a hamstring strain in Friday night’s match 3 loss, the Heat went from flash to bash, in an effort focused on the defensive end and driven by the persistence of Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker.
Butler, who knocked his way to the fault line, led the Heat by 36 points. Tucker, who created a groundbreaking performance almost exclusively built on dirty work, added 14 points and eight rebounds.
There were also 14 points from Bam Adebayo, 12 from Max Strus and 11 from Gabe Vincent who started in place of Lowry.
“Everyone else had to go up,” Tucker said of playing in Lowry’s absence.
In addition to these numbers, an inspired contribution from Victor Oladipo, in his first playoff action as a member of the Heat, was fully in sync with tonight’s heart-and-hunt theme, ending with six points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“He gave us some amazing, important minutes, inspiring minutes,” Spoelstra said.
For the Hawks, Trae Young closed 3 of 11 from the field for nine points, with Atlanta finishing at 40 percent from the field.
The winner of this series meets the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors series, which the 76ers lead 3-1.
“Everyone came in and played hard tonight,” Tucker said.
Five degrees heat from Sunday’s match:
1. Closing time: The Hawks led 26-25 at the end of the opening period, with the Heat then moving to a 55-41 lead at the break, ending the second period on a 26-4 run.
The Hawks moved back within eight early in the third quarter, but the Heat put together a 17-7 run to take an 80-61 lead into the fourth.
Unlike Friday night’s collapse in the fourth quarter from 16 and up, the Heat shut it out from there, accompanied by a chorus from part of the crowd of “Let’s Go Heat!”
That ultimately left the Hawks with no answer.
“They had a lot of pressure tonight,” Young said. “Just brought the pressure and we just could not match it, really made no shots and did not play well. And that was the result of it. “
2. Bully Butler ball: Butler kept the Heat hovering offensively in the first half, while also helping to control the pace with his bruises.
Of Butler’s 19 points in the first half, 13 came in the second quarter.
He closed 12 of 21 from the field with 10 rebounds.
His 11 of 12 from the line allowed the Heat to better dictate the pace.
Later, in the third period, Butler also drained a 3-pointer to help set up a Hawks rally.
“We all remain aggressive,” Butler said.
He now has an average of 30.5 points in the playoffs.
And no, he said it has nothing to do with erasing the memory of last year’s playoff failure against the Bucks.
“I’m not playing the game to prove anything to anyone but myself and my guys,” he said.
Ultimate Pest: Tucker was at his pest-like best from the start, up 10 points and eight rebounds at the break, including pulling the fourth foul on John Collins with 1:54 left in the first half.
Tucker said part of his fuel was the Hawks defending him with point guards in previous games.
And yes, he let Spoelstra know that it went into the game.
“He yelled at me,” Spoelstra said, “I said, ‘Okay, that sounds like a good idea.'”
When Dewayne Dedmon called on two early fouls, the Heat went twice with smaller balls in the first half, with Tucker at the center.
Tucker then moved back to center with 8:29 left in the third period after Adebayo was called for his fourth foul.
In that role, Tucker was then called for a technical foul midway through the third period after a verbal confrontation with Hawks backup center Onyeka Okongwu.
“This is the playoffs,” Tucker said. “That’s what I live for.”
4. Oladipo time: With Heats attacking firmly in the mud, Oladipo played his first appearance of the postseason, coming in with 7:53 left in the second period, with the Heat down by six.
His entry put Heat 10 deep after Dedmon, Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson previously stepped in from the bench.
Heat went on a 15-0 run shortly after.
It was Oladipo’s first playoff action since his Indiana Pacers lost in the first round in 2020 to the Heat.
Spoelstra said Oladipo worked with the other team on Saturday, a hint of what we should follow.
“I was ready anyway,” Oladipo said. “No one needed to tell me anything.”
Heat were plus-20 in Oladipo’s eight first-half minutes.
“He kept himself ready. He made it easier for it to look,” said Spoelstra. “He gave us winning minutes.”
5. Cleanup: The Heat played the first half without turnover, the first time they ever played an off-season half without one, scoring the Hawks 9-0 on turnovers during the first 24 minutes.
A charge from Adebayo by 41 seconds inside the third quarter was Heats’ first turnover. They closed with seven, all but two well after the match was settled.
“It was one of the most important things,” Spoelstra said, “it was really taking control of the ball possession game.”