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Heat fall 105-104 to 76ers, now left with an all-or-nothing Friday game while awaiting MRI on Butler knee

PHILADELPHIA – And so for the second consecutive season for the Miami Heat, the NBA play-in round comes down to a single all-or-nothing game at Kaseya Center.

Last year, the Heat turned the opportunity into the launchpad for a run to the 2023 NBA Finals.

This time, there will be a mere two-day turnaround from the sting of blowing a double-digit lead against the Philadelphia 76ers in a 105-104 loss Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Oh, and it gets worse, with Jimmy Butler injuring his right knee late in the first quarter, hobbled from that stage, and now scheduled for a Thursday MRI.

“It had me feeling that I couldn’t do too much.” Butler said in a quiet postgame locker room, after having a sleeve fitted for his knee.

Win Friday night, and it’s on to a best-of-seven first-round series against the Eastern Conference top-seed Boston Celtics starting Sunday at TD Garden.

Lose Friday to the winner of Wednesday night’s late play-in game between the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls, and it’s season over.

“We will do this the hard way,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That has to be the path right now.”

The Heat last season lost their play-in opener at home to the Hawks before staging a fourth-quarter comeback to push past the Bulls.

Until the midpoint of Wednesday night’s third quarter, it appeared the Heat’s zone defense would be enough to offset an uneven shooting night.

But with a third-quarter rally, the 76ers regained their footing and now move on to a first-round series against the New York Knicks starting Saturday.

As the Heat now face two distinct potential realities.

“This,” Butler said of Friday night, “is a must win, or the season is over.”

With Terry Rozier sidelined and Duncan Robinson unable to push through his back issue, the Heat simply lacked the required offense on a night Tyler Herro shot 9 of 27 and Butler 5 of 18.

Herro closed with 25 points and nine assists, Butler with 19 points. with Jaime Jaquez Jr. adding 15 points, and Bam Adebayo closing with a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double.

The 76ers by contrast got an unexpected 20 points from Nicolas Batum to help support largely pedestrian nights from Joel Embiid (23 points, 15 rebounds) and Tyrese Maxey (19 points, 6 of 16 from the field).

“Luckily,” Adebayo said, “we do have another game.”

Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday night’s play-in game:

1. Closing time: The Heat went down eight early before taking a 23-22 lead into the second period. They then pushed their lead to 14 in the second period, before going into halftime up 51-39.

The 76ers then rallied within two in the third period, before the Heat went into the fourth up 74-69. The 76ers then took their first lead of the second half, at 79-76, on Batum’s fifth 3-pointer.

It went back and forth from there, with a Herro 3-pointer putting the Heat up 94-93 with 2:15 to play, but an Embiid 3-point play making it 96-94 with 1:47 left.

A floater by Haywood Highsmith tied it 96-96 with 90 seconds remaining.

But after getting a stop, the Heat committed a backcourt violation, and then saw Kelly Oubre sneak inside for what turned into a 3-point play and a 99-96 Philadelphia lead with 36 seconds remaining.

A Herro 3-point attempt then was blocked, effectively ending it.

“These type of games,” Spoelstra said, “you just treasure the opportunity to compete in these kind of games.

“Everybody that played, everybody that was on the bench put everything into it.”

2. Scary times: Butler went down with 1.5 seconds left in the first period after a mid-air collision with 76ers forward Kelly Oubre.

Butler remained on the court after the officials checked for a flagrant foul, as the Heat called timeout.

The play was confirmed as a common foul, with Butler then making one of the two free throws to close out his seven-point first quarter.

Butler  remained in the game to start the second period, drawing a second foul on Embiid with 26 seconds into the quarter.

But there never was rhythm with the shot, on a night Butler all too often was forced into 3-point prayers, clearly favoring a knee that now must heal in 48 hours.

“He’s putting himself out there and I really appreciated him for that competitive spirit,” Spoelstra said. “It reallit stiffened up on him in the second half.”

“As the second half went on, it started to limit him a little more. But we’ll see when we get back to Miami.”

Asked if he fears something serious, Butler said, “I don’t want to jinx it.”

But he admitted he wasn’t himself after the injury.

“Honestly, I thought that adrenaline would kick back in,” he said.

3. Early whistles: Adebayo was called for two early fouls against Joel Embiid, forced to the bench with 6:55 to play in the opening period.

“Just play through it, no excuses,” Adebayo said when asked if the fouls were limiting.

That had Kevin Love entering at a point when Adebayo was scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting, a pair of 3-point attempts.

The Heat went to zone defense shortly after Adebayo exited.

Adebayo did not score until converting an alley-oop dunk with 6:33 left in the second period.

While Adebayo matched Embiid with a double-double, his playmaking skills were limited with the Heat unable to make shots.

“That’s the cost of doing business against a guy like Embiid,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo’s fouls.

4. Alternate means: Although active and upgraded to available prior to the game, Duncan Robinson remained out of the Heat mix for a fifth consecutive game, as he continues to deal with left facet syndrome, sitting on the bench with a wrap and pad around his back.

“Every day that he gets, he’s going to make progress, and that’s really what it was,” Spoelstra said of Robinson not playing”

Asked if Robinson was playable, Spoelstra said, “These are tough decisions. I can’t answer.”

Instead, the Heat turned to Delon Wright off the bench.

Wright not only helped anchor the zone defense, but at one point in the first half was 2 of 2 on 3-pointers while the rest of his teammates were 2 of 15.

Based on his Wednesday play and the uncertainty with Rozier, similar rotation minutes again could follow for Wright.

5. What’s next: The Heat now host the winner of Wednesday night’s play-in game between the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago  Bulls on Friday at 7 p.m. at Kaseya Center.

Tickets remain available, according to the Heat.

Should the Heat win Friday night

Game 1: Sunday, at Boston, 1 p.m., ABC.

Game 2: Wed. April 24, at Boston,  7 p.m., TNT

Game 3: Sat. April 27, at Miami, 6 p.m., TNT

Game 4: Mon. April 29, at Miami,  Time and TV TBD

Game 5*: Wed, May 1, at Boston, Time and TV TBD

Game 6*: Fri. May 3, at Miami, Time and TV TBD

Game 7*: Sun. May 5, at Boston, Time and TV TBD

* – If necessary.

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