This wasn’t about style points. This was about wanting to see Atlanta permanently in their rearview mirror for the 2022 playoffs.
So in the absence of their floor leader, the Miami Heat reverted to their defensive roots and opted for gritty instead of pretty, in moving to a 110-86 victory Sunday night over the Hawks at State Farm Arena.
Up 3-1 in the best-of-seven opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series, the Heat have an opportunity to close it out Tuesday at 7 pm at FTX Arena, otherwise to return to Atlanta for a Thursday Game.
“We had to find a different way to win this game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “A lot of it was our defensive toughness and versatility.”
With point guard Kyle Lowry sidelined by a hamstring strain sustained in Friday night’s Game 3 loss, the Heat went from flash to bash, in an effort focused on the defensive end and fueled by the tenacity of Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker.
Butler, who pounded his way to the foul line, led the Heat with 36 points. Tucker, who fashioned a breakthrough performance almost solely built on dirty work, added 14 points and eight rebounds.
There also were 14 points from Bam Adebayo, 12 from Max Strus and 11 from Gabe Vincent, who started in place of Lowry.
“Everybody else had to step up,” Tucker said of playing in the absence of Lowry.
Beyond those numbers was an inspired contribution from Victor Oladipo, in his first playoff action as a member of the Heat, fully in synch with the heart-and-hustle theme of the night, closing with six points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“He gave us some great, important minutes, inspiring minutes,” Spoelstra said.
For the Hawks, Trae Young closed 3 of 11 from the field for nine points, with Atlanta finishing at 40 percent from the field.
The winner of this series meets the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors series, which the 76ers lead 3-1.
“Everybody came in and played hard, tonight,” Tucker said.
Five Degrees of Heat from Sunday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Hawks led 26-25 at the end of the opening period, with the Heat then moving to a 55-41 halftime lead, closing the second period on a 26-4 run.
The Hawks moved back within eight early in the third quarter, but the Heat put together a 17-7 run to take an 80-61 lead into the fourth.
Unlike Friday night’s fourth-quarter collapse from 16 up, the Heat closed it out from there, accompanied by a chorus from a section of the crowd of “Let’s Go Heat!”
It ultimately left the Hawks with no answers.
“They had a lot of pressure tonight,” Young said. “Just brought the pressure and we just couldn’t match it, really didn’t make any shots and didn’t play well. And that was the result of it.”
2. Bully Butler ball: Butler kept the Heat float offensively in the first half while also helping control the pace with his bruising approach.
Of Butler’s 19 first-half points, 13 came in the second quarter.
He closed 12 of 21 from the field, with 10 rebounds.
His 11 of 12 from the line allowed the Heat to better dictate the pace.
Later, in the third period, Butler also drained a 3-pointer to help quiet a Hawks rally.
“We’re all staying aggressive,” Butler said.
He now is averaging 30.5 points in the playoffs.
And, no, he said it has nothing to do with erasing the memory of last year’s playoff failure against the Bucks.
“I don’t play the game to prove anything to anybody except myself and my guys,” he said.
3. Ultimate pest: Tucker was at his pest-like best from the outset, up to 10 points and eight rebounds by the intermission, including drawing the fourth foul on John Collins with 1:54 left in the first half.
Tucker said part of his fuel was the Hawks defending him with point guards in previous games.
And, yes, he let Spoelstra know it going into the game.
“He yelled at me,” Spoelstra said, “I said, ‘All right, sounds like a good idea.’ “
With Dewayne Dedmon called for two early fouls, the Heat twice went with smaller-ball lineups in the first half that had Tucker at center.
Tucker then moved back to center with 8:29 left in the third period, after Adebayo was called for his fourth foul.
In that role, Tucker then was called for a technical foul midway through in the third period after a verbal confrontation with Hawks backup center Onyeka Okongwu.
“This is the playoffs,” Tucker said. “This is what I live for.”
4. Oladipo time: With the Heat’s offense stuck in the mud, Oladipo made his first appearance of the postseason, entering with 7:53 left in the second period, with the Heat down six.
His entrance put the Heat 10 deep, after Dedmon, Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson previously entered off the bench.
The Heat went on a 15-0 run shortly thereafter.
It was Oladipo’s first playoff action since his Indiana Pacers lost in the 2020 first round to the Heat.
Spoelstra said Oladipo worked Saturday with the second team, a hint of what we to follow.
“I was ready regardless,” Oladipo said. “Nobody had to tell me anything.”
The Heat were plus-20 in Oladipo’s eight first-half minutes.
“He stayed ready. He made it easier that it looks,” Spoelstra said. “He gave us winning minutes.”
5. Cleaning up: The Heat played the first half without a turnover, the first time they ever played a postseason half without one, outscoring the Hawks 9-0 on turnovers over the first 24 minutes.
A charge by Adebayo with 41 seconds into the third quarter was the Heat’s first turnover. They closed with seven, all but two well after the game was decided.
“That was one of the most important things,” Spoelstra said, “was really taking control of the possession game.”