Dave Hyde: Jimmy Butler goes down and Heat can't hold up without him

Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

They had three turnovers in the first three minutes, made two of their first 11 shots, Bam Adebayo went to the bench with two early fouls and then real calamity happened when Butler crumpled to the floor.

Still, they were right there. Spoelstra unwrapped a amoeba-like zone defense with shifting specters and changing roles that also kept Adebayo from having to cover 7-foot Joel Embiid. Philadelphia acted like it had never seen a zone. It shot a measly 32.6% in the first half with 12 turnovers.

Philadelphia fans, bless them, began booing.

The Heat led at half, 51-39. That lead shrunk to five points after three quarters. Even then the script was a surprise as Butler and Tyler Herro were a combined 8-for-33 shooting. You wondered how the Heat could hold on. Answer: They couldn’t.

Philly took the lead on a Nicolas Batum 3-pointer at 79-76. Batum is another danger of a one-game series like this. He averaged 5.5 points in the regular season. He had 20 off the bench in this one, including 6 of 10 on 3-pointers.

Another problem for the Heat became Embiid. He came alive. Shooting. Passing. Defending. He’s been hurt much of the last couple of months, but he turned on his game when Philadelphia needed him in the fourth quarter.

The Heat typically turn to Butler for winning time in big games. Instead, with a one-point lead, there was rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr., who had a nice game, turning the ball over with under three minutes to play.


Then, after making a shot, Herro stepped on the midcourt line for a violation in a tie game with 55.1 seconds left. Philadelphia’s Oubre got a three-point play on the ensuing possession. That was that for the game.

There’s no excuses or crying for the Heat. They put themselves in a position where that injury to Butler effectively sank them. You winced watching him run the court. You rubbed your knee in sympathy at timeouts.

You now wonder how he can possibly be whole by Friday night. He finished with 19 points Wednesday, but was a non-factor by the end in a way he rarely is in big games.

It’s not the hard way now, as Spoelstra called it. That was last year when the Heat rose from this last play-in game to the NBA Finals.

This is the hardest way. Down three of your top eight players, including your one playoff star, isn’t any way to save the season.

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