Heat vs. Hawks: Miami takes 2-0 lead as Jimmy Butler joins LeBron James, Dwyane Wade in team playoff history

Coming into their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, one of the biggest questions about the top-seeded Miami Heat was how they would create consistent late-game offense. Miami finished the regular season ranked 24th in clutch offense and 21st in fourth quarter offense. They blew the Hawks out in Game 1, so it did not matter.

In Game 2, the Heat answered some questions.

Jimmy Butler was relentless with 45 points, and he took complete control in crunch time. Every time the Hawks – who did not play well but managed to hang around long enough to have a chance late – made a push, Butler had the answer. After Atlanta had cut Miami’s lead to three with 3:15 to play, Butler scored seven straight to put Miami back up 10 with 1:20 remaining, and Atlanta never got it back under double digits as the Heat took a 2-0 series lead with a 115-105 victory.

How great was Butler, who added five assists and five rebounds? Check out this company:

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Interesting note: Butler has been a horrendous 3-point shooter during the regular season in his time with the Heat (24 percent in his first two seasons and 23 percent this year), but he’s been much better in the playoffs. He shot 35 percent from deep in the bubble and so far this postseason he’s 5-or-9 from 3.

Butler knocked down four of his seven 3s on Tuesday and, generally speaking, his aggression as a shooter has consistently gone up in the postseason with Miami. That trend appears to be continuing.

Before we anoint Butler as the closer the Heat need, however, let’s keep in mind who he’s doing this against. The Hawks are nothing short of a dreadful defense.

In my preview of this series, I talked about the Trae Young offense-defense tradeoff and how it can only come out as a positive for Atlanta if Young dominates offensively, because his defense completely drowns an Atlanta defense that is already barely treading water.

Suffice it to say, Young has not been dominant offensively in this series. He finished with eight points on 1-for-12 shooting in Game 1, and had had 10 turnovers and shots 2-for-10 from 3 in Game 2. Frankly, that Atlanta was even close down the stretch of this game with Young playing like that was a small miracle.

Early in the game, a lot of weird caroms went Atlanta’s way that turned into “look what I found” buckets. Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a bunch of really tough shots – 12-of-18 overall and 5-of-10 from 3 – to finish with 29 points. No way does Atlanta keep this game at all close without Bogi.

It’s a lot to put on Young that he has to be brilliant for Atlanta to have a chance, but that’s the reality. Miami is a better team at every other spot on the floor and in every other facet of the game. Young’s turnovers were a mixture of his own sloppiness and soft / lazy passes and Miami’s relentless pressure. The Heat are all over him with size and switches and he’s seeing bodies sinking down into his driving lanes at all times. Miami is mixing up coverages, sporadically springing traps.

Young did get into the paint more effectively in Game 2, finishing with 25 points and seven assists while converting eight of his 10 shots from inside the arc. He found some jump-shot rhythm with some mid-rangers. But one of the biggest leaps Young has made has been his reduction in ill-advised 3-pointers, and on Tuesday, flustered and rushed, he jacked up a bunch of bad 3s.

Again, he finished 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. The Hawks aren’t going to win very many games when Young shoots 20 percent from 3 and commits 10 turnovers, especially not against a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. So now Atlanta heads home for what is essentially a must-win Game 3 on Friday. We’ll see what kind of fight the Hawks have left.

The Miami Heat are two wins away from a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Jimmy Butler was fantastic on Tuesday night finishing the Heat win with a game-high 45 points and now they are in the driver’s seat in this series as a result. Game 3 will take place on Friday night in Atlanta as the Hawks look to avoid being pushed to the brink of their postseason lives.

Trae Young finished with 25 points and seven assists but he did not play well, as most glaringly evidenced by his 10 turnovers. In the end, Atlanta was and is just outmatched short of Young being awesome, which he was not by any stretch. The Hawks will have to try to figure things out on their home floor if they want to make this a competitive series.

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