MIAMI — The Heat were missing two starters yet hardly missed a beat in Tuesday’s 97-94 Game 5 win over the Hawks to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
With Kyle Lowry sidelined since late in the third quarter of Game 3 because of a left hamstring strain and Jimmy Butler in street clothes because of inflammation in his right knee, Miami got a lift from an unlikely pair of replacements.
Victor Oladipo, who appeared in 96 of a possible 309 regular-season games the past four years because of knee and quadriceps injuries, and Max Strus, who was undrafted and appeared in two games total with his first two NBA teams, picked up the slack to help the Miami Heat clinch their first playoff series at home since 2016.
Oladipo, who scored more points in the first five minutes of the first quarter (eight) than he had in the first four games of the series (six), finished with 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting.
“A year ago today I was expecting and waiting for my next surgery,” Oladipo said. “I remember a year ago today, around this time last year, I was sitting in a dark room by myself and just broke down. Not because I quit, but because I was at the lowest point I could be at. And now, God has put me in this position today, so I just made the most of it.”
It was the first time Oladipo scored 20 points in a playoff game since he did it against the Heat in the NBA bubble as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
“I could have done two things. I could have stopped. Or I could have ran right through it,” Oladipo said of his injuries. “And I’m still running through it.”
Strus finished with 15 points and went on a personal 10-0 run from the 2:29 mark of the second quarter until there was 1:22 left in the half, turning a one-point Miami deficit into a nine-point cushion that the Heat pushed to 12 by the break.
Of his 67-second scoring spree, Strus said: “I didn’t even know I did that. That was fun though.”
Not to mention Bam Adebayo’s 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds, which included a crucial dunk with 59.2 seconds left off an Oladipo feed that doubled the Heat’s lead from two to four to help stave off a late Atlanta rally.
It was a total team effort from a Heat squad accustomed to plug and play. Miami used 23 different starting lineups during the regular season en route to the Eastern Conference’s 1 record.
“Everybody that played had their fingerprints on this. We clearly had some adversity in this game not having Kyle or Jimmy, and our group doesn’t even blink,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s not even something we have to address. We just pivot and put in the game plan and everybody gets ready and tapes their ankles and gets out there and competes.”
That cohesion was on full display on the defensive end, where Miami capped off a tortuous series for Trae Young by holding the Atlanta star to 11 points on 2-for-12 shooting (0-for-5 from 3) and six turnovers.
Young finished with more turnovers (30) than made field goals (22) in the five games and three of his four lowest point totals all season. After coming in fourth in the regular-season scoring race, averaging 28.4 points per game, Young averaged 15.4 points against Miami. The 13.0 points per game decrease is the second largest from the regular season to the playoffs in a single season for a player over the past 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We threw a lot of bodies at him,” Strus said. “We were physical with him and just tried to take him out of his game. … Really, it’s that simple. Guys just stepped up. Guys took the 1-on-1 challenge. And we knew that to stop Trae, it was going to stop them. So we really took that personal.”
Miami put the finishing touches on the win with a signature stop, not even allowing the Hawks to get off a shot attempt on their final possession when they had the chance to tie the game with a 3 off an inbounds play coming out of a timeout with 5.2 seconds left. The Heat trapped Danilo Gallinari in the corner, and he threw a difficult pass across court that Adebayo stole to end it.
“Heat fashion,” Adebayo said. “End with the stop. Defense wins championships. And it just so happens that we ended the game with a stop.”
Tyler Herro, one of the three finalists for Sixth Man of the Year, scored 16 points off the bench. It was his 11th career playoff game with at least 15 points as a reserve, extending his lead for the most such games in Heat franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
And while Butler and Lowry didn’t play, they still had an impact on the outcome.
“A lot of things that you all don’t see, or that people don’t see, is how huge Jimmy and Kyle were on the bench today,” Oladipo said. “They were like coaches. … Jimmy helped me tremendously in the fourth quarter, and you won’t see it in the box score. You won’t see it unless someone tells you. So it’s my job to tell you: Jimmy helped me a lot in the fourth quarter, so I appreciate him.”
Miami will play the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors’ first-round series, which the Sixers lead 3-2, guaranteeing at least six days off for Lowry and Butler to rest up before the second round begins Monday at the earliest.
The break, like Butler’s coaching cameo, is appreciated.
“We’ll go back to our cave, bandage up, hopefully get healthy, and then we’ll see what happens in that series,” Spoelstra said. “But definitely the guys have earned a couple days of just quality rest and treatment.”