The night began with Erik Spoelstra comparing the plights of his Miami Heat and the opposing Los Angeles Clippers, and how each team has had to contend with significant injury absences this season.
Thursday night, it was the Heat without Kyle Lowry, who was given his first night off of the season, with the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard, who remains in an ongoing maintenance program.
Against that backdrop, even with Jimmy Butler back after being held out of Tuesday night’s loss to the visiting Detroit Pistons, it again was another typical Heat fight to the desperate finish.
With Butler stepping up at that finish to allow the Heat to escape with a 115-110 victory over the visiting Clippers, after ugly losses earlier this week to the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies and lottery-bound Detroit Pistons.
Bam Adebayo powered the Heat with 31 points and 10, with Butler stepping up late to close with 26 points and eight assists. The Heat also got 19 points from Tyler Herro and 17 from Caleb Martin.
Paul George led the Clippers, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, with 29 points.
Five Degrees of Heat from Thursday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat trailed 28-20 at the end of the first period, but with a 13-0 second-quarter run went into halftime up 56-54. They then went into the fourth quarter down 87-84.
Spoelstra tried to buy time at the start of the fourth quarter with both Butler and Adebayo on the bench. After the two returned, the Heat moved to a 104-98 lead midway through the fourth on a Max Strus 3-pointer. Herro followed with a 3-pointer with 4:20 left for a 107-100 lead.
But back came the Clippers, with a Reggie Jackson 3-pointer drawing Los Angeles within 107-103.
From there, a pair of Butler jumpers moved the Heat to a 111-103 lead.
George countered with a 3-pointer and a driving layup to draw the Clippers within 111-108 with 1:17 to play.
And then? More Butler, his 15-foot jumper giving the Heat a 113-108 lead with 57 seconds to go.
Shaky bandling then had the Heat staggering to the finish.
2. Strong inside: Adebayo again kept his game at the rim, solid on the roll for several driving baskets, up to 27 points going into the fourth, after a 15-point third period.
He said earlier in the day his shots are coming in his comfort zone.
“I’m getting to my spots,” he said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing for us. I feel like when I get to my spots, it’s good – it looks good, feels good. And all of my teammates are fine with me shooting that. It’s not more about shots. It’s about the assertiveness, opportunities.”
3. Butler back: Butler not only returned from Tuesday’s night off, but scored 12 of the Heat’s 20 first-quarter points. Butler shot 5 of 7 in the opening period, with the rest of the Heat 4 of 18 from the field, no one else with more than one basket.
He then went scoreless in the second period, with 18 points entering the fourth.
He also took the defensive assignment againstGeorge.
4. Caleb connects: Martin had himself quite a second period, including 4-of-4 shooting on 3-pointers. Martin would have been 5 of 5, but was ruled to have stepped out of bounds during a successful connection.
Martin closed the second quarter 6 of 8 from the field for all 16 of his first-half points, with the 16 points a career high for a period.
But, like Butler, he cooled after his surge, with 17 points entering the fourth.
5. One out, one back: Spoelstra explained before the game the reasoning that led to Butler returning from a one-game absence and Lowry this time being given the night off.
“Each decision is different,” Spoelstra. “Jimmy was just coming back, and the back-to-back [Tuesday against the Pistons] just didn’t make sense, particularly with the travel. And as we all know, and we’re all aware, Kyle’s been logging quite a few minutes.
“And we’re pushing it now and trying to make up some ground in the season, but we also have to be responsible, you have to be smart. And his load has been pretty heavy, which he can handle, he likes it. But, again, we do have to be responsible and think big picture, as well.”