Butler back and Heat back in series lead after 105-86 victory over Knicks

MIAMI – Jimmy Butler was back.

The rebounding returned.

The bench was boosting.

And, so, a 2-1 lead for the Miami Heat in these best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks after a 105-86 victory Saturday at Kaseya Center.

“The disposition was where we wanted it to be,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Afforded the luxury of sitting out the first half of fourth quarter after his team went up 21 in the third period, Butler eased his way back from the ankle sprain that kept him out of the Heat’s Game 2 loss with 28 points.

Showing more fight on the boards than they did in Tuesday’s loss, when they were crushed on the glass in that decisive fourth quarter, the Heat this time closed with a 50-48 rebounding edge.

And with Spoelstra going 10 deep and with all 10 having their moments, the Heat won with across-the-board contributions beyond Butler.

“On both sides,” Heat forward Kevin Love said of the two teams, “it wasn’t pretty. We just had to get the job done.”

Butler was supported by a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double from center Bam Adebayo, as well as 19 points from Max Strus and 14 from Kyle Lowry.

The Heat won despite shooting .389 from the field and 7 of 32 on 3-pointers.

“You just have to do whatever you have to do to get a win,” Spoelstra said.

The Knicks, who never were able to get their offense to fire, got 20 points from Jalen Brunson, 15 from Josh Hart, 14 from R.J. Barrett and 10 from Julius Randle.

“We’ve always said we can win games when we defend,” Butler said.

Game 4 is 7:30 p.m. Monday at Kaseya Center, before shifting to New York for Wednesday night’s Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

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Five Degrees of Heat from Saturday’s game:

1. Game flow: The Heat pushed to an early 13-point lead and took a 20-21 advantage into the second period. After moving ahead by 19 in the second period, the Heat went into the intermission up 58-44.

The score was adjusted at halftime, when what initially was scored a Randle 3-pointer with 3.1 second left in the second period was changed to a two-point basket.

After extending their lead to 21 in the third period, the Heat went into the fourth up 87-70.

“We made them take difficult shots,” Adebayo said, with the Knicks closing at .341 from the field and 8 of 40 on 3-points.

After the Heat moved up 22 with 7:49 to play, the Knicks trimmed their deficit to 97-84 with 4:32 to play, leading to a Heat timeout, with the Heat taking care of business from there.

“The first quarter set the tone for the game,” Spoelstra said.

2. Butler back: Butler was back after missing Tuesday’s Game 2 with the ankle sprain sustained in Game 1.

Of pushing past the ankle sprain, Butler said, “A lot of recovery went into it, for sure.”

He promptly opened the game’s scoring with an 8-foot jumper.

“We knew he was going to give us a boost,” Lowry said.

The Knicks this time were far more aggressive with double teams against Butler, something that was not the case in the series opener.

“We’re used to it,” Butler said. “Make the right play, pass the ball.”

In a twist from his previous appearance, Butler this time opened defensively against R.J. Barrett, with Gabe Vincent opening defensively against Brunson.

There was a moment of concern in the third period, when Butler took a fall and appeared to be favoring the ankle, but it turned out to be a minor thigh issue.

“He’s fine,” Spoelstra said.

Butler returned with 5:19 to play after the Knicks moved within 14, closing 9 of 21 from the field and 10 of 11 from the line.

Of Butler being back, Spoelstra said, “You can’t put an analytic to it. It’s just the overall confidence.”

3. Strus loose: After taking a hard foul in Tuesday night’s Game 2 victory that left him with a back contusion, Strus came out with nine points in the first eight minutes, including a transition layup off a touchdown pass from Love that came with Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier seated courtside.

“I feel like Max has been waiting for his moment, and he got that moment today,” Adebayo quipped of the play.

Strus opened 4 of 5 from the field and was up to 17 points by the end of the third period, constantly positioning for 3-pointers to help space the Knicks’ defense.

“And he does a lot of good things with his physicality, too,” Spoelstra said. “And offensively, he gave a spark.”

4. Rotation twist: Typically preferring tight a rotation that becomes even tighter during the playoffs, Spoelstra opened the second period solely with reserves, with a lineup of Cody Zeller, Haywood Highsmith, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson and Lowry.

With that lineup in place, the Heat’s lead went from eight to 19 while Butler was out at the start of the second period.

“Guys are coming in and making plays for us,” Love said.

That left Omer Yurtseven and Nikola Jovic the only Heat players not to see action by the start of the second period. Those two played only the final 54 seconds.

“We’re more dangerous when a lot of guys are putting their fingerprints on the game,” Spoelstra said. “They gave us a big-time boost.”

5. Like old times: With 14.7 seconds left in the third period and the Heat up 17, there was a bit of throwback Heat-Knicks moment, with the teams tangling below the New York basket following a 13-foot jumper by the Knicks guard Quentin Grimes.

Technical fouls were called on the sequence on the Heat’s Zeller and Martin, and the Knicks’ Isaiah Hartenstein. Randle then missed the free throw for the extra Heat technical foul.

Zeller downplayed the incident.

“It was nothing,” he said with a smile. “We were just making dinner plans.

“In the playoffs, you might be tired of playing against the same guys. It’s nothing more than that.”