The Miami Heat got off to a lackadaisical start Saturday night at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland ran out to an 11-point first-quarter lead, and some Heat fans worried about another inexplicable loss to a sub-par team this season.
That didn’t last long.
Miami trounced the second quarter 38-24 and built on their lead in the second half to allow Jimmy Butler to rest the entire fourth quarter.
Stingier defense coupled with the emergence of both Butler — who had just five points in the first half — and Duncan Robinson, opened the floodgates for the Heat in the second half. The duo combined to score 17 of the team’s first 21 third-quarter baskets.
Butler’s layup widened the Heat’s advantage to 88-71. Kevin Love’s 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to 12 with 2:03 left in the third quarter, but that’s the closest it would be the remainder of the evening.
Iguodala’s 3-pointer extended it to 105-89 with under nine minutes to go. Adebayo’s layup, followed by Dragic’s layup increased it to 118-99 with under two minutes to go.
A couple of players the Heat plucked from the G League — Kendrick Nunn and Max Strus — changed the game in the second quarter. (Butler didn’t even score his first field goal until the third quarter.) On the night, they combined to make seven 3-pointers and drive to the basket several times, like this example from Strus.
Nunn finished with a team-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. Of course, Cleveland is a bad defensive team, but Nunn took advantage. He’s made a real case that he deserves to keep his rotation place and perhaps even another contract after this season. Coming off his horrendous 2020 playoff performance, we couldn’t say that. Credit to Nunn for withstanding the adversity and bouncing back this year.
Have to admit that I literally laughed out loud at how Kendrick got open here. pic.twitter.com/XV56zgIbmG— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 2, 2021
Another Miami developmental project, Duncan Robinson, made four 3-pointers in the third quarter to turn a seven-point halftime lead into a 13-point advantage heading into the fourth. Robinson hit his 500th 3 Saturday night, becoming the fastest player to reach that marker. He finished with 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from downtown and also rested the entire fourth quarter.
Despite his slow start, Butler scored 10 of his 15 points in the third to build Miami’s lead. He got to the rim and got to the foul line — two of the best things he does. And he had some nice moments of strong defense, like this one here that leads to a Trevor Ariza layup.
Ariza, by the way, scored 18 points on the night on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. He has been a great addition for Miami, sliding into that starting power forward spot after they traded Kelly Olynyk for Victor Oladipo. The Heat are a better offensive team when he’s on the court, and he provides defensive versatility.
Like Butler, Bam Adebayo also struggled out of the gate. But he anchored the fourth-quarter lineup without his All-Star teammate to put the game away. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals.
The Hawks grabbed firm position of that spot with its 108-97 win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. The Heat’s win ties them with the Boston Celtics for the No. 6 seed with eight games remaining, though Boston holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Miami, victors in six of its last eight, improve to 34-30 — only the second time this year it’s been four games over .500. The Cavaliers fall to 21-43. It marked Cleveland’s sixth-straight loss and the ninth in its last 10 games.
The Heat were without Tyler Herro (foot) for the fourth straight game, along with Victor Oladipo (knee). Neither traveled with team for their two-game road trip. The Cavaliers were without promising second-year guard Darius Garland with an ankle injury. They were also without Isaiah Hartenstein (concussion), Larry Nance (ankle), Matthew Dellavedova (neck; out for season), Taurean Prince (ankle) and Lamar Stevens (concussion).
Miami shot 54 percent on the evening, 50 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Cleveland shot 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent from deep and 76.5 percent from the free-throw line. The Cavaliers, who entered Saturday last in the Association in 3-point shooting (33.4 percent) and 3-point makes per game (9.7), netted 20 3-pointers, tying a season high that was set on Jan. 20 against the Brooklyn Nets.
Collin Sexton need 35 points to reach 4,000 points for his career. He finished 10 short, tallying 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting and 4-of-6 from 3-point range with eight assists.
After a well-documented shot-less evening (in 22 minutes) on Friday for Kevin Love, he had a season-high 25 points — tying Sexton for the team high — on 7-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc.
Cedi Osman totaled 15 points with a team-most nine assists. He went 6-for-13 from the floor. Dean Wade added 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from deep off the bench. Isaac Okoro added 11 points on 3-of-6 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the 3-point line.
Miami’s bench finished a plus-11 against Cleveland’s bench. Miami also forced 18 Cavalier turnovers, turning it into 24 points.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Heat conclude its two-game road trip in a pivotal game against the Charlotte Hornets. Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m. EST. The Hornets loom 2.5 games back of the No. 7 seed.