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Jimmy Butler explodes for 45, Heat grab 2-0 lead over Hawks

Butler went 4-for-7 from 3-point range.

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat - Game Two Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

For a moment there, it seemed like the Miami Heat were in danger of blowing a big fourth-quarter lead and heading to Atlanta with a series knotted at 1-1.

That was before Jimmy Butler put the finishing touches on a masterpiece.

After the Heat held a 15-point edge early in the fourth quarter, Bogdan Bogdanovic went on a scoring binge to pull the Atlanta Hawks to within 101-104 with 3:15 left. On the Heat’s ensuing possession, Kyle Lowry set a screen for Butler to get an open runway for a dunk. That bucket gave Butler 40 points on the night, tying his playoff career high.

Bogdanovic missed a 3 on the other end of the floor, and ball went out of bounds. The referees initially signaled Hawks ball, but Erik Spoelstra challenged it successfully. Armed with another possession, Butler waltzed into a 3-pointer. Nothing but net.

Bogdanovic missed another 3, and Butler made a Euro-step for a layup. The Heat were up 111-101 with 1:20, the game in hand. Miami held on to win 115-105 and take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the eighth-seeded Hawks.

The Heat’s summer 2019 trade acquisition played like he was facing the Milwaukee Bucks or Los Angeles Lakers in the Bubble. He finished with 45 points on 15-of-25 shooting, including 4-of-7 from downtown and 11-of-12 from the foul line. He added five rebounds and five assists.

Every time the Heat needed him to make a basket — whether in an uneven second quarter or when the lead shrunk in the fourth — Butler did so. Tonight’s performance should quiet many Miami fans who doubted Butler’s ability to close games based off some regular season performances.

Someone who should be happy for Butler’s fourth-quarter heroics — Bam Adebayo. The Heat center struggled offensively for the second consecutive game, scoring only nine points. He picked up his fourth foul just minutes into the third quarter and committed a couple costly turnovers after he checked back in early in the fourth. Facing a thin Atlanta front-court, Adebayo should do more. If the Hawks stole this game, many would blame Adebayo’s off game.

Although the Heat didn’t limit Trae Young to eight points again, Miami’s defensive rotations were again solid. Gabe Vincent had some especially good moments, and Erik Spoelstra stuck with him in crunch time. The Heat forced Young into committing 10 turnovers.

Foul trouble to both Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon forced Erik Spoelstra to go small in the second quarter, using a front-court of Caleb Martin, P.J. Tucker and Butler. Martin didn’t play until garbage time in Game 1. Spoelstra apparently liked it, because he used Martin as the ninth man in the second half. Duncan Robinson didn’t play aside from a six-minute first-half stint.

When he did play, Dedmon offered some nice energy, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring six points in 13 minutes. A couple of his buckets came off offensive rebounds early in the fourth quarter, when both Butler and Adebayo were on the bench. The Heat need those relief points.

Max Strus added 14 points, including three 3-pointers. Tyler Herro chipped in 15 points off the bench.

The Heat will visit the Hawks for Game 3 on Friday night.