Jimmy Butler, Heat Culture take commanding 3-1 lead over Atlanta


Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, front left, drives against Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) in the first half of an NBA playoff basketball game Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


The mantra everybody outside of Miami hates -— Heat Culture, with a capital C, please — is the notion that this basketball franchise possess some magical, intangible gear, this secret, fundamental wellspring to summon.

Maybe it was tested Sunday night in Atlanta. Maybe it was on display.

Coach Erik Spoelstra was asked what his team would miss most without starting point guard Kyle Lowry, absent with a strained hamstring.

“Leadership,” he said first.

Plenty of that in reserve.

How about Jimmy Butler, stepping up with 36 points? How about a clearly revved-up defensive intensity?

How about treating adversity like a speed bump, not a worry?

The Heat took Game 5 on the road, 110-86, for a commanding 3-1 first-round series lead in the NBA playoffs.

‘We had to find a different easy to win this game,” Spolestra said afterward. “A lot of it was our defensive toughness.”

It’s been a minute, but Sunday night meant Miami, in Game 5 back home Tuesday night, will be able to clinch its first postseason series advance on home wood in six years, since May 1, 2016.

Atlanta was the desperate team Sunday, the home team. Miami was the wounded team without its major offseason acquisition, the one player, in Lowry, seen as the missing piece.

There was every reason for the Hawks to win and go to Miami knotted 2-2.

See, but this has been Miami’s season. Sunday was but a microcosm .

You think it was easy or smooth getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference?

Miami’s four leading scorers — Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyller Herro and Lowry — missed a combined 86 games in the regular season, mostly to injuries.

Seldom did Spoelstra have his full complement to send into action.

He has had to adjust, make do. It’s why Heat fans have come to know and embrace names such as Max Strus and Gabe Vincent and … remember Omer Yurtseven? It is why you could argue this season has been Spoelstra’s best coaching job.

Anyway, nobody wants to hear about injury excuses. Not in a playoffs that have seen Phoenix missing Devin Booker and Milwaukee without Khris Middleton, both all-stars. And with Philly’s Joel Embiid playing hurt and facing postseason thumb surgery.

You’re the No. 1 seed,? You withstand a key starter injured.

Miami just did. With aplomb. With force. To all but assure a playoff advance.

Credit Butler. It cannot be understated.

Jimmy Buckets continues to make his case for being seen among the greatest players in Heat history, though only in this third season in South Florida..

Butler was key in turning around a deficit into a permanent lead in the second quarter Sunday. Stealing an in-bounds pass and turning it into a three-point play. He hit 11 of 12 free throws. Had 10 rebounds. Did it all.

Nobody else had more than 14 points for Miami. Butler carried the team.

The Butler did it.

Lowry watched the game in a black ballcap and black sweatshirt.

He wasn’t missed. At least not this night.

The team that has been withstanding key injuries all season just did it again.

Hate the phrase if you wish, but it isn’t going awasy.

Heat Culture.

This story was originally published April 24, 2022 9:57 PM.

Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2021 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also hosts The Greg Cote Show podcast and appears regularly on The Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz.

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