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The lineup again was in flux.
But there also remained the constant of fights to the finish.
With Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo sidelined, the Miami Heat had to conjure a different formula in Monday night’s 113-110 victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
So with Dewayne Dedmon also ailing and sidelined, the rotation at center was reduced to Nikola Jovic and Orlando Robinson.
And with Butler unable to go, Max Strus was elevated to go-to scorer.
No, not exactly what you’re looking for after an 0-2 start to a four-game homestand, with one more home game to follow before a challenging five-game western swing,
But with Adebayo ill and Butler unable to go due to an ankle sprain, desperation turned to inspiration for Erik Spoelstra’s team.
“These games, all of them haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but ultimately this is what you want, to have these thrilling games and great closing moments, in incredible context,” Spoelstra said. “All of that. And hopefully your team grows from that. We’ve had a lot of moving parts. So we’ve had basically everybody on our roster has experienced those clutch moments.”
And so, despite having to again sweat it to the final buzzer, back to .500 at 17-17, doing it the hard way, including a key late jumper from Tyler Herro on a night when precious few of his outside shots were falling.
“Everybody stepped up,” Strus said. “Everybody played their minutes hard.”
Strus led the Heat with 19 points, with Kyle Lowry adding 18. Combined with several other complementary contributions, it was enough to overcome the 29 points from Anthony Edwards, in a game the Timberwolves were lacking ailing big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
“I had to call two timeouts during the course of the game because guys were that tired. And that led to a three-point win,” Spoelstra said of the Heat desperation required while shorthanded. “That’s how hard it is to win in this league, and that’s what’s necessary and has to become a habit.”
Five Degrees of Heat from Monday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 33-31 at the end of the first quarter and 59-56 at halftime. They then went up 12 in the third period, before going into the fourth up 93-86.
The Timberwolves would then pull within two, before the Heat upped their lead to 109-101 with 5:22 to play.
Eventually, with 1:52 to play, Austin Rivers drained a 3-pointer to draw Minnesota within 111-108.
But with the shot clock expiring, Herro stepped up with a corner jumper with 33.2 seconds left for a 113-108 Heat lead. Initially ruled a 3-pointer, it was changed to a two-point basket (Herro closed 0 for 8 on 3-pointers).
Later, it came down to a moment of truth with 28.8 seconds left on a block-charge play, with Spoelstra challenging a blocking call against Lowry. The ruling went against the Heat, with Edwards’ basket drawing the Timberwolves within 113-110.
A miss by the Heat’s Caleb Martin followed, setting up the Timberwolves down three with 2.5 seconds to play, with the game ending on a Minnesota turnover, their 22nd of the night.
“We were able to push to seven-, eight-point leads several times,” Spoelstra said. “And they would come back. But instead of them taking the lead and taking control of the game, we were able to come right back again. Just the level of effort and intensity is something that has to continue to be a habit for us.”
2. Doing his part: With Butler and Adebayo out, Lowry stepped up his game, up to 18 points and nine assists by the end of the third period, keeping the Heat afloat when needed most.
Lowry accounted for nearly two-third of the Heat’s 34 third-period points, with seven points of his own and five assists that led to 13 Heat points.
He closed 8 of 16 from the field, playing his 34 minutes without a turnover.
Lowry said it was clear he had to help push the pace.
“Without Jimmy and Bam, your game plan is completely different, honest,” Lowry said. “We shot 49 threes. We only made only 13 of ‘em. But when you don’t have Jimmy attacking and getting free throws, Bam attacking, we just had to push the pace.
“But that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to figure out ways to play.”
3. By committee: With Adebayo, Dedmon and Omer Yurtseven out, and with Udonis Haslem dealing with Achilles soreness, it came down at center to the Heat tandem of 19-year-old Jovic and two-way contract player Orlando Robinson
Jovic and Robinson both dealt with early foul trouble, with Robinson, who was up to 10 points and six rebounds by that stage.
The Heat went to extensive zone early due to that foul trouble, with Jovic also picking up his third foul midway through the second period, necessitating time at center for Haywood Highsmith.
“They’re two different types of players and depending on the matchup, O can give us a little bit of more traditional center play,” Spoelstra said. “And Niko, we’re just continuing to develop him and learn what he’s capable of. His skill set is really unique and I think it’s really promising.”
Robinson closed with 15 points and nine rebounds, Jovic with nine points and three rebounds.
“Coming out, I just wanted to attack the boards, do anything I could do to contribute,” Robinson said.
Said Strus, “Orlando Robinson was huge tonight, huge.”
4. A 3 with meaning: Amid the Heat’s 3-of-19 start on 3-pointers, Heat guard Duncan Robinson enjoyed a double-milestone moment.
Not only was Robinson’s first 3-pointer the 800th of his career, it also made him the fastest to that total, in terms of games (263), in NBA history. Robinson also was fastest in NBA history to 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 3-pointers.
In addition, those three points lifted him to 3,000 for his career.
Robinson’s second basket, another 3-pointer, was the 1,000th of his career.
Robinson had been held out of Friday’s loss to the Pacers.
“He understands his role now,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s in a good place.”
Robinson closed 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.
5. As needed: Again injected into the starting lineup out of necessity, with Butler out, Strus stepped up with his 3-point stroke when needed.
He beat the buzzer to end the first half with a 3-pointer and then moved to 5 of 9 from beyond the arc midway through the third quarter at a stage when the rest of his teammates were 5 of 27.
It was Strus’ 19th start in his 32 appearances, after having been projected as a sixth man in the preseason.
He closed 7 of 12 from the field, including 5 of 10 on 3-pointers.
“I keep doing what I do. That’s what I do,” said Strus, who had been in a December slump. “Whether it goes in or not, I’m going to keep shooting and keep playing my game and stay positive and help us win.”
Heat overcome absences of Butler, Adebayo to hold off Timberwolves 113-110
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