Dave Hyde: Heat rise to the moment to take Game 1 with Butler on one ankle
Jimmy Butler fell on the court, reached for his ankle, and suddenly the end of the Game 1 looked like the real start of the series.
Suddenly, as Butler rolled onto his stomach, his body language expressing a broken body, all the questions changed Sunday, starting with whether these final five minutes of Game 1 would change.
Even as Butler stayed in the game, making two foul shots to put the Heat up 97-92, The Big One stepped into the corner on offense, hobbled through on defense as best he could and watched The Little Four bring home Game 1.
“I didn’t do too much,’’ he said on ABC after the 108-101 win, “but air-ball the 3 [-point shot]”.
Maybe, then, this was the Heat team they talk about, the one that’s still the full sum of their parts. Maybe this showed they don’t need Butler to do everything in every win. Maybe Caleb Martin swooping in for a block after Butler’s foul shots, maybe Bam Adebayo contributing a half-hook, maybe Kyle Lowry filling out the stat sheet from 18 points to a game-high four blocked shots (the Heat had five total) was as much a statement as taking a 1-0 series lead.
“Find a way to win,’’ as Butler said.
Let’s not overdo this: The Heat go nowhere good without Butler. He had a team-high 25 points, a team-high 11 rebounds and a team-high four offensive rebounds. If this ankle prevents him from playing in Game 2 on Tuesday, the Heat already got the road win they need.
How’s it feeling?
“Like a rolled ankle,” he said on the court after the game.
There were storylines to this Heat-Knicks series, but they’re mostly old and irrelevant storylines about the rivalry a quarter-century ago. Allan Houston’s shot. Jeff Van Gundy riding Alonzo Mourning’s leg. Pat Riley, forever. You saw ABC understandably pump that angle. But those series have nothing to do with this series, even to fans.
Besides, the big storyline leaving Game 1 is who plays and, beyond that, how well. The Heat already lost Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo in the Milwaukee series and Bam Adebayo’s going on a bum hamstring. The Knicks were without star forward Julius Randle in Game 1. So this becomes another series where you need to look at the lineups before figuring out the best path to winning.
“He’s sprained his ankle several times with us,’’ Spoelstra said of Butler. “I know him. I know when I can look in his eye, and he assured me he wasn’t going to be a liability.
“He wanted to stay in there and get this win. The main thing being the main thing, we had to get this win.”
The Heat have won five of six playoff games in a way that underlines just how irrelevant an NBA regular season is. It says they’re a team as good as last year’s that came within a missed shot of the NBA Finals.
They didn’t shoot Sunday like in the Milwaukee series, making just 33 percent on 3-pointers, in part because the Knicks play better defense. But then the Knicks missed 10 straight 3-point shots Sunday themselves. So the Heat play some defense, too.
Spoelstra talked of the game going “in the mud,’’ and that might be how this series looks like the old Heat and Knicks. There’s still a long way to go in it, still a question of just who these teams really are.
The Heat are Butler and just enough from everyone else to be dangerous on their good nights. Kevin Love grabbed rebounds and threw touchdowns down the court for three easy baskets in the third quarter. Gabe Vincent matched his career-high with 12 3-point attempts, making five and finishing with 20 points.
“With Tyler out, with Vic out, we frankly do need Gabe to be more aggressive,’’ Spoelstra said. “We do need him to put points on the board or at least make the defense play him.”
Spoelstra played his role, too. The Knicks scored 40 points in the paint in the first half. He changed the defense, and the Knicks scored 14 in the paint in the second half. That’s how games are won.
Series are won with stars. Healthy stars. The Little Four come up big in the final five minutes to seal Game 1 when Butler played on one ankle. But everyone knows he’ll need the other ankle if the Heat are to win three more games this series.