Jimmy Butler takes advantage as Heat holds off Cavaliers, Donovan Mitchell 119-115

The face of desperation was the face of the Miami Heat on Friday night when they were down 14 in the third quarter.

It turned out to be a good look, or at least a necessary look, one that will be even more necessary in the heat of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Forced to face some of Donovan Mitchell’s best, the Heat made a needed stand in a 119-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers to salvage a 3-3 game,

“We’re fighting for our competitive lives right now,” coach Erik Spoelstrs said after the nail-biting final game of the season. “Is this the position we want to be in now? Not. But that’s what you want, you want games with incredible pressure and context.”

While work remains to be done to get out of an Eastern Conference play-in series and into one of the six automatic playoff seeds in the East, it was a night where the Heat looked to down adversity when it cast its ugliest face.

A loss would have cut the Heat’s lead in the East to half a game over the Atlanta Hawks, who won earlier in the night. Instead, the Heat remained 2 1/2 games behind the No. 6 Brooklyn Nets and three games behind the No. 5 New York Knicks.

“Right now,” guard Tyler Herro said, “all of these games are playoff games for us.”

With the game tied at five in the final five minutes, he left the Heat with his 48th clutch game of the season, 48th in the league.

Terrible as usual.

Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 33 points, supported by 25 from Herro, 19 from Bam Adebayo, with Max Strus providing the necessary 3-point support in a 14-point effort off the bench.

Mitchell led the Cavaliers with 42 points, his ninth 40-point game of the season.

Five degrees of heat from Friday’s game:

1. Closing time: The Heat led 27-26 at the end of the first period, but then trailed 59-50 at halftime.

The Heat then closed in on a stretch early in the third period when they were down by 14 later in the period before closing within 89-82 entering the fourth.

Then, with Butler on the bench, the Heat jumped out to a four-point lead early in the fourth, with Butler shortly after returning to help push the Heat’s lead to seven.

“We had to stay afloat,” Herro said of those fourth-quarter minutes without Butler.

A Caris LeVert 3-pointer then pulled Cleveland within 105-101, with a Ricky Rubio 3-pointer with 3:03 to play cutting the Heat’s deficit to 107-104.

But a Strus 3-pointer, part of the Heat’s 3-point revival in the second half, pushed the Heat lead to 110-104, with a Herro 3-pointer making it 113-106 with 1:35 left.

But back came Mitchell, trailing Cleveland 113-110 with 64 seconds left.

An offensive foul on Butler and an alley-oop dunk by Evan Mobley then had Cleveland within 113-112 with 38.7 seconds to play.

A little scrimmage ensued, with Butler taking an inbound pass and dribbling in a 19-foot jumper for a 115-112 lead with 18 seconds left, leading to Cleveland’s final timeout.

From there, Mitchell drove the corner to the lane, drew an Adebayo foul and drained both free throws to pull Cleveland within 115-114 with 10.3 seconds to play.

Caleb Martin was then fouled with 8.9 seconds to play, his first trip to the line of the night, draining both for a 117-114 Heat lead.

On a layup from the Heat, Butler then fouled Mitchell with 5.6 seconds to play before Cleveland could hit a potential game-tying 3-pointer,

“I was totally comfortable with Jimmy making that decision,” Spoelstra said of the foul.

Mitchell made the first free throw, intentionally missed the second, and Butler rebounding that miss.

Fouled, Butler put it away at the line with a pair of free throws.

“You want to see what this competition can bring out of you,” Spoelstra said.

2. Butler Time: Butler scored 11 points in the third quarter, leading the Heat’s second-half comeback to go on to 21 points in the fourth.

But even then he was pulled for his customary rest early in the fourth, a reality and a necessity for a 33-year-old.

This time, the Heat did justice to Butler in his absence with a 97-94 lead when he returned with 6:56 to play.

With his third point, Butler passed Mario Chalmers for 13th on the Heat’s all-time scoring list.

Butler went 12-of-16 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line.

“I feel like we can say that about so many of these games, but that’s what the greats do,” Spoelstra said. “It’s the epitome of efficiency.”

3. Boy who wondered: No, not always the best shot selection, but Herro’s impetuosity in the fourth quarter was what the Heat needed while Butler rested, including a transition three-pointer that put the Heat up 93-91 with 8 :44 to play.

Herro not only kept the Heat afloat with his 3-point shooting, but was aggressive on the boards as the Heat again played smaller lineups in the closing minutes against the Cavaliers’ length, finishing with nine rebounds.

With his ninth point, Herro passed Shaquille O’Neal for 18th on the Heat’s all-time scoring list.

Of his somewhat impatient trip in transition, Herro said with a smile, “It’s a good shot if you make it. Spo can’t say anything if you succeed.”

4. Something new: Kyle Lowry, who missed his 15th straight game with knee soreness, went through a vigorous shooting regimen before the game with the expectation of returning in Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

The team confirmed after the game that Lowry would travel.

A Lowry return would come at a time when backup guard Gabe Vincent is struggling, including three missed shots Friday night that didn’t even hit the rim.

If Lowry returns as a backup, it would be his first game off the bench with the Heat.

“That’s my guy, that’s my brother,” Butler said. “I’m glad to have him back. He’s going to be a game-changer in so many ways for this team.”

5. One-man show: Mitchell was up to 25 points at halftime on 9-of-12 from the field and 6-of-8 on 3-pointers. The Heat, by comparison, were 3 of 10 on 3-pointers in the first half.

Mitchell scored 17 points in the second period as the Cavaliers outscored the Heat 33-22.

Mitchell then went into the fourth with 33 points, already tying his season high at that stretch with eight 3-pointers.

The game took on a different look with Cleveland guard Daruis Garland sidelined with a quad contusion suffered in Cleveland’s win over the Heat on Wednesday night. That made Caris LeVert start in his place. Garland led Cleveland with 25 points in Wednesday night’s win.

The Cavaliers went 10-0 in Garland’s absence this season.


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