It is the next gear that creates the fear.
Sunday, in Game 1 of this best-of-seven opening-round playoff series, it came in the second quarter, when the Miami Heat decided a rout was better than doubt, in what turned into a 24-point blowout win.
Tuesday night at FTX Arena, Erik Spoelstra’s team this time took it up a level in the third quarter behind the play of Jimmy Butler, on the way to a 115-105 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Butler led the Heat with a career-playoff-high 45 points, an effort that included four 3-pointers.
“He was just really assertive,” Spoelstra said. “He’s just a winner and he showed that tonight.”
Up 2-0 in the series, the Heat now head out for Friday and Sunday games at State Farm Arena, having shown Tuesday they can win even when Hawks guard Trae Young actually makes shots and even with center Bam Adebayo yet to hit his series stride.
“They have our full respect,” Spoelstra said.
With Butler’s offense more than enough to offset 25 points from Young, the Heat were able to overcome early turnovers, a shaky close and foul trouble for Adebayo.
Bogdan Bogdanovic added 29 points for the Hawks.
“Honestly, he won the game for us,” Heat point guard Kyle Lowry said of Butler.
For as good as the Heat were in the third, and for as much as they carried than momentum into the fourth, building a 16-point lead, it still came down to the closing minutes, the Hawks far more competitive than in Game 1.
“All we did was take care of home, “Lowry said. “We understand they play better at home.”
Five Degrees of Heat from Tuesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 26-25 at the end of the opening period, 56-54 at halftime and then pushed to a 14-point lead in the third with a 16-4 run before taking an 87-76 lead into the fourth.
The Heat then moved to a 16-point lead early in the fourth, but a 13-0 run drew the Hawks within 94-91 with 6:27 to play.
A 3-point play by Lowry with 5:41 to go upped the Heat’s lead to 100-93, with a Butler steal and score pushing the lead to 102-93.
But with a Young 3-pointer, the Hawks were back within 102-98 with 4:24 to go, with a Bogdanovic 3-pointer later drawing Atlanta within 104-101.
After the Heat moved ahead 106-101, Spoelstra won a coach’s challenge, Butler drained a 3-pointer, and that effectively was it.
Spoelstra said it was the Heat’s early inefficiency that lit the fire, comparing it to the team’s sideline scrum a month ago.
“Whatever that was a month ago,” Spoelstra said, “you should have seen our locker room at halftime.”
2. Butler time: There was little pretense from Butler other than eyes on the rim, closing 15 of 25 from the field, including 4 of 7 on 3-pointers, as well as 11 of 12 from the line.
Butler said a conversation with veteran power forward provided Tuesday’s impetus.
“He told me, ‘Go out and score, make sure that we win,’ ” Butler said.
Factoring in his five rebounds and five assists and Butler joined Dwyane Wade and LeBron James as the only Heat players with a postseason 45-5-5, the first to do it without a turnover.
“He knows how to win,” Spoelstra said.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Butler became just the fifth player since 1978 with 45 points and no turnovers in a playoff game, joining Dominique Wilkins, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant and Jamal Murray.
It was Butler’s third 40-point playoff game with the Heat, tying him with James’ total, four shy of Wade’s franchise record.
“We still got two more to get against this squad,” Butler said.
3. Foul mood: Adebayo, in the midst of an uneven start to the series, was forced to the bench with his fourth foul just 1:22 into the second half.
With backup center Dewayne Dedmon already with three fouls, Spoelstra went with Caleb Martin, who had been out of the rotation and limited to mop-up duty in Game 1. Martin had entered late in the second period, after Adebayo and Dedmon each had been whistled for their third fouls.
The ledger quickly was evened, with Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter and Bogdanovic each called for their fourth fouls shortly thereafter.
But then, with 2:37 left in the third, Heat starting power forward P.J. Tucker was called for his fifth foul.
“I thought Caleb gave us some really good minutes,” Spoelstra said, with Martin playing 17:06.
Adebayo had been limited to six points and six rebounds in Sunday’s series opener, this time closing with nine points and four rebounds.
4. Young at start: Limited to eight points in Game 1, Young reached that total with 3:20 left in the opening period, with Atlanta getting out in transition before the Heat established their defense.
Young closed the first quarter with 10 points and was up to 18 at the intermission.
Young had gone 1 of 12 from the field on 0 for 7 on 3-pointers in Sunday’s series opener.
This time turnovers plagued Young, with his ninth giving him the most ever in the postseason by a Heat opponent, closing with 10, a career high.
The also again was the harassing defense of Heat guard Gabe Vincent.
“Try not to let him get the ball, that’s the best way to guard him,” Vincent said. “Any way I can disrupt him, I try to.”
Young finished 10 of 20 from the field, but just 2 of 10 on 3-pointers.
5. Alternate Atlanta approach: With center Clint Capela questionable for the series after hyperextending his right knee in Friday night’s play-in victory in Cleveland, Atlanta this time opened with a smaller-ball lineup, with West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman product John Collins at center.
It was the first start for Collins since March 11. He had been out since then with foot and finger injuries prior to returning as a reserve in Game 1. The Hawks had started Onyeka Okongwu at center in Game 1.
Collins closed with13 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes.
“Collins adds a totally different mix because of his ability to score the ball,” Spoelstra said.