Butler ejected, but not before helping Heat top Pelicans 106-95

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler wasn't pleased about being ejected for his involvement in a fourth-quarter melee with the New Orleans Pelicans.

He was however, gratified by the way his teammates responded during the 11 minutes that followed.

Butler had 23 points and nine rebounds before being sent to the locker room and the Heat held off the Pelicans 106-95 on Friday night before a hostile and emotionally charged crowd.

“Our team is so ready for anything that anybody’s thrown at us,” Butler said after the Heat won for the seventh time in nine games. “We’re so together, playing some incredible basketball. I don’t think it matters who we go up against right now. It’s that time of the year.”

Bam Adebayo scored 24 points for Miami, which returned from its All-Star break by beating snapping the Pelicans' four-game winning streak in what also marked the Heat's seventh straight victory over New Orleans.

Miami reserve Thomas Bryant, along with Pelicans players Jose Alvarado and Naji Marshall, also were ejected after the on-court melee with 11:19 to go. Even a couple fans were escorted out, one of them after throwing things at Heat players from one of the first few rows.

“You never want to see that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about the scuffle. “Once it was all done, the response was appropriate — discipline, physicality, force, but not going over the top.”

The dust-up began when Heat center Kevin Love grabbed Zion Williamson to prevent a layup after Williamson had stolen the ball from Butler in the back court. Williamson fell to the court after Love's foul.

“It was just, I think, a misunderstanding of the play,” Spoelstra said. "I think Zion slipped on the play when K-Love grabbed him and it looked a lot worse than what it was. And then everybody kind of overreacted.

“On K-Love's best day, I don't think he could throw (Williamson) down,” Spoelstra added.

When play resumed, the Pelicans briefly surged in front when rookie Jordan Hawkins' 3 made it 91-89, but Heat reserve Haywood Highsmith quickly responded with a 3 that ignited a decisive 11-0 Miami run.

“It's a sign of good teams that even with Jimmy out, other guys could step up and they wanted it,” Spoelstra said. “You could feel it that guys wanted to do it for Jimmy and just the context of everything was just figure out a way to finish this game.”

Duncan Robinson scored 17 points and Tyler Herro scored 15 for the Heat. Herro, however, appeared to hurt his left knee with 1:40 left and hobbled straight to the locker room after he was helped to his feet.

Williamson had 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for New Orleans, which played a second straight night without high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram (illness), and lost for just the second time in 10 games. Guard CJ McCollum also left the game in the first half with a left ankle injury after initially trying to play through it.

Pelicans coach Willie Green complimented his players' effort and intensity.

“I love what I saw from this group; just didn't score enough points,” Green said. “It was two competitive teams that want to win and some times you're going to have things like that happen. No big deal.”

But Green also suggested that the Pelicans also have been a bit frustrated that officials often don't whistle opponents for hard contact on the burly, powerful Williamson, who is listed at 285 pounds.

“I don't think he gets a great whistle and I thought it could have been better,” Green said, adding that he'd like to see officials "be consistent across the board” in the way they handle contact involving all players.

Herb Jones scored 19 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were done in by 37.5% shooting (39 of 104) — 7 of 32 (21.9%) from 3-point range.

Miami, by contrast, shot 44.8% (13 of 29) from deep and 46.3% (38 of 82) overall. New Orleans outrebounded Miami 54-46 and outscored the Heat 58-46 in the paint, but that was not enough to overcome the shooting disparity in the game.

Butler scored 17 points in the first half and gave Miami a lead as large as 19 when he tipped in Jaime Jaquez Jr.'s jump hook to make it 43-24. When Herro hit his second 3 of the game, the Heat led 55-37 with less that six minutes to go in the half.

That's when the Pelicans suddenly locked down defensively and began a dramatic 21-3 run to close the second quarter. It started with Williamson's free throws, followed by his putback.

Trey Murphy III, having missed his first seven shots, hit a 3 to pull the Pelicans back to 57-47. Alvarado added another from deep, followed by a reverse scoop that he spun in off the glass. Valanciunas finished the remarkable, crowd-energizing surge with a layup set up by Williamson to tie it at 58 at halftime.

UP NEXT

Heat: At Sacramento on Monday night.

Pelicans: Host Chicago on Sunday night.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba