The win over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night brought relief as it broke a four-game losing streak.
But Wednesday night’s Miami Heat 108-98 win over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden gave something much more – hope for potentially big events in the postseason.
In a game laden with playoff intensity until the final seconds, the Heaths endured in the fourth quarter to secure their place at the top of the Eastern Conference and win a place in the playoffs.
“What it was,” Heath coach Eric Spoelstra said, “was just great competition.”
The post-season spot was a given given what is now the Spoelstra 49-28 team record. But the victory brought the Heat one step closer to taking 1st place overall in the East, at the top of the conference with five games remaining in the regular season.
“It just shows,” said Kyle Lowry, “that we can find ways to win on the road and win in a hostile environment.”
The Heat has found its way even with big evenings from Boston’s leading men: Jaylen Brown scored 28 and Jason Tatum – 23.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 24 points, Lowry scored 23 points and 8 assists, and Bam Adebayo – 17 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Tyler Era also scored 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’ve had some great performances,” Spoelstra said.
It was the Celtics’ biggest home loss since Jan. 19.
“It was a good test for us in the future to feel that it will be soon,” said Celtics coach Ime Udok.
Adebayo agreed, in terms of heat.
“It definitely prepares you,” he said, “knowing you might play with them later in the playoffs.”
Heath’s trip of three games doesn’t get much easier: Saturday’s game against the Chicago Bulls and Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.
Five degrees of heat from Wednesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The wild third quarter, which was followed by a series of Heat 10-0 and then 16-0 Celtics, ended 83-79.
Heath later moved into four points in the middle of the fourth quarter on Butler’s jump, and Butler moved into the transition with 1:43, giving Heath a 102-96 lead.
“Jimmy only had fingerprints on this whole game,” Spoelstra said.
After Tatum stopped, the Celtics led to a score of 102-98, and after a 24-second breach in the run with a score of 1:15.
Then, having 33.6 seconds before the game and four times, Tatum was called for charges against Max Strus, and Boston was challenged. The challenge remained, and the Celtics lost their last timeout.
“This charge was a big game that changed the momentum,” Spoelstra said.
After 13 of 20 effective throws from the line at this stage Adebayo moved to the line with 27.1 seconds of play and made only the first of two free throws. The heat kept coming from there.
“It’s a good win, playing against the NBA’s hottest teams,” Lowry said.
2. Playoff tickets: The Heat has announced that tickets for individual games for their first-round playoff series against an as-yet-undecided opponent will go on sale April 6 at 10 a.m., with the team coming out with the White Hot playoff theme for the first time since 2018.
The Heat will open the playoffs at the FTX Arena on April 16 or 17.
Once tickets go on sale, there will be a limit of four tickets per family per game.
The initial sales will be for the four home Heat games in the best of seven series.
All Heat playoff games will only be available on mobile devices.
3. Fill in: Adebayo was the most versatile when flirting with the triple-double.
He was forced to come back with a score of 7:43 to play, after Davene Deadman fouled for his 15 minutes, closing 5 of 10 off the field and 7 of 9 off the line, with just one turn.
His defense, more than his numbers, ultimately proved crucial, at the center of several Heat defensive stands at the end.
“We hang our hats at bus stops,” Adebayo said. “I feel it was the most important thing in the fourth quarter, we stopped.”
The butler was grateful.
“He’s always like that,” Butler said, “and I think we hope for him sometimes.”
4. Laurels for three: Lowry continued his performance at the end of the season with a 3-point performance, the sixth time in seven games he has turned into at least three, after failing to do so in his previous five appearances.
He closed 6 of 12 because of the arc.
“I’m just getting ready to prepare for moments that I know will be great for us,” Lowry said of the upcoming playoffs.
Lowry’s seventh 3-point attempt moved Joe Johnson to 14th place on the NBA list of all time.
“He just has a great mind for competition and how to influence victory,” Spoelstra said of Lowry.
5. Again the same: Spoelstra was left with an updated rotation announced in Monday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings, while Strus started in place of Duncan Robinson.
As a result, Robinson again played in reserve, Victor Oladipa and Markif Morris came out of the mix, and their comebacks were postponed for the second game in a row.
“Sometimes losing can make you make some necessary adjustments,” Spoelstra said when the 2-0 heat revised the schedule after a four-game skid.
And, again, it worked.
“We understood much better where the ball should go, putting everyone in the position needed to succeed,” Butler said.