Heat close in on East's No. 3 seed with wire-to-wire Jimmy Butler-less win over Celtics

Ben Rohrbach
·4 min read

Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler sat with a sore right ankle after playing 33 minutes in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Monday, but his teammates’ collective effort on the second night of a back-to-back — led by Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic — still drew them within 1 1/2 games of the third-place Boston Celtics.

Adebayo recorded a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds), wreaking havoc on both ends of the floor with his versatility opposite Boston bigs, and Dragic scored 20 of Miami’s 43 bench points in a 111-106 victory.

“Last game I didn’t do enough,” Adebayo told reporters of his 10-point effort in Monday’s narrow loss to Toronto, feeling even more pressure without Butler to create shots. “I lost sleep over it last night, so today I was like, ‘Look, I’ve got to do everything I can for this team to win. That was sort of my mindset today.”

The Heat could be even more undermanned when they play the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. Dragic left the floor with five seconds left after landing awkwardly on his left ankle. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, an X-ray on Dragic’s ankle came back negative, confirming a slight sprain.

Miami never trailed in Tuesday’s victory, building a double-digit first-quarter lead that felt comfortable until late in the fourth quarter. The Celtics drew within 102-98 on a Daniel Theis dunk with just under five minutes remaining, but Duncan Robinson drilled a pair of three-pointers to push the lead back to 10 with 1:43 left.

Robinson is enjoying a breakout campaign after playing just 161 total minutes as a rookie last season. He entered the game ranked fourth in the NBA in three-point percentage and made another 5-of-11 attempts against Boston, finishing with 21 points to join Adebayo as the leaders of five Heat players in double digits.

Despite Robinson’s fireworks, the Celtics made it a one-possession game with 13 seconds on the clock, when Kemba Walker connected on a three-pointer following a Dragic turnover. Boston never regained possession, as Iguodala and Robinson sandwiched three 3-of-4 free throws around an offensive rebound.

The Celtics have struggled defensively in Orlando, allowing 117.9 points per 100 possessions in three games, third worst in that span. Adebayo left them scrambling all night. Marcus Smart drew the Adebayo assignment in a small-ball lineup that proved disastrous to close the first half, and Boston’s defensive ace ultimately fouled out with 3:46 left in the third quarter. Jayson Tatum committed his fifth foul a minute later.

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo flexes on the Boston Celtics. (Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images)
Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo flexes on the Boston Celtics. (Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images)

The Celtics’ offense also failed them. Their 15 assists on 37 made field goals marked their second-lowest total of the season. All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has been restricted since his knee soreness followed him to Walt Disney World. He finished with 15 points on nine shots and a team-high four assists in 27 minutes, the most he has played in the bubble. Celtics not named Walker shot 6-for-26 from distance.

Walker is scheduled to sit the second game of Boston’s back-to-back on Wednesday against the depleted Brooklyn Nets before ramping up his minutes load in the hopes of entering the playoffs without restriction.

Tatum led the Celtics with 23 points. Jaylen Brown added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Neither took over the way they did in Sunday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers. That is an issue in Butler’s absence. It is also a testament to Miami’s wing depth after dealing for Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder at the trade deadline.

Through three games, the Raptors have clearly separated themselves from the Celtics and Heat as the team best prepared to challenge the Bucks in the East playoffs. Toronto now needs a win or another Boston loss over their next five games to clinch the second seed. Miami’s victory leaves the third and fourth seeds still in doubt, with either a second-round series against the Raptors or Bucks respectively looming for both.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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