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Heat fight the good fight in injury absence of Butler, fall 111-105 to Knicks

NEW YORK – It was the leading men against the replacements.

Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and R.J. Barrett were in place for the New York Knicks.

Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo were out for the Miami Heat.

No, not optimal, the Heat ailing and the Knicks healing as the teams headed into Tuesday night’s Game 2 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Still, even with the Knicks moving to a 111-105 victory at Madison Square Garden and a 1-1 series tie, it was a game that showed what the Heat have in support of Butler, who well could be back from his sprained right ankle for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. Game 3 at Kaseya Center.

Brunson, listed as questionable going in with an ankle sprain, led the Knicks with 30 points. Randle, who had missed Game 1 with an ankle sprain, added 25. Barrett closed with 24.

With Butler and the heart of the Heat’s perimeter rotation out, the Heat got 22 points from replacement starter Caleb Martin, 21 from Gabe Vincent and 17 from Max Strus, hardly the preferred Bingo card for playoff success.

Giving the opportunity to play as leading man, Heat center Bam Adebayo finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, shooting 5 of 10 from the field, 5 of 7 from the line in 38 minutes.

Five Degrees of Heat from Tuesday’s game:

1. Closing time: The Knicks led 31-29 at the end of the first quarter, with Barrett scoring 16 in the period. The Heat then moved to a 54-51 lead at the intermission, even with Barrett up to 19 points and Randle 18. From there, the Heat led 77-76 going into the fourth.

After buying time for Adebayo at the start of the fourth, similarly to how he does for Butler, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra reinserted his center with 7:57 to play, with the Heat then pushing to a 93-87 lead before the Knicks tied it 93-93 with 6:06 to play and then took the lead 99-96 on a Brunson 3-pointer with 4:07 left.

A Josh Hart 3-pointer with 1:38 left after an Adebayo dunk then made it 104-100 New York.

The Knicks pushed ahead 108-100 from there, but a Duncan Robinson 3-pointer with 22 seconds left got the Heat within 108-105.

The Knicks put it away with Josh Hart free throws, with Hart closing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

2. The remix: With Butler out, the Heat went with the first-time starting lineup of Adebayo, Kevin Love, Strus, Vincent and Martin, who started in place of Butler.

It was Martin’s first start since Feb. 15, replaced in the starting lineup at that point by Love, who was signed five days later during the All-Star break.

It left the Heat opening with three undrafted players, in Martin, Vincent and Strus.

Strus has been starting in place of Herro, who broke his right hand in the first half of the first game of the first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

3. Everyone plays: By the end of the first period, the only available players for the Heat yet to see action were center Omer Yurtseven, rookie Nikola Jovic and 42-year-old captain Udonis Haslem. None of those three played.

That meant meaningful minutes for Haywood Highsmith, who injected the type of energy off the bench typically delivered by Martin, even while dealing with knee tendinitis.

It also meant minutes for Robinson, who was called for a pair of quick fouls less than four minutes after entering. He later made a second-period 3-pointer after missing his first seven attempts of the series from beyond the arc, closing 3 of 8 on 3-pointers.

4. The Strus boost: After dropping 11 points in the first 5:06 of the third quarter, Strus limped into the locker shortly thereafter following a tumble on a rebounding sequence. He returned to the bench shortly thereafter, with what was diagnosed as a lower-back contusion.

Strus at that point was up to 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, leading the Heat in scoring at that juncture, thriving in the pick-and-roll game.

His misstep further depleted the Heat’s available perimeter rotation until he returned with 6:06 to play, moving gingerly, not scoring again.

5. Three-and-Z: As they typically do when shorthanded, the Heat tried an over-the-top approach on offense and zone alignment on defense.

The Heat closed the first quarter 6 of 15 on 3-pointers, getting opening-period 3-pointers from Love, Martin, Highsmith and Strus, who made two in the period.

By halftime, the Heat were at 10 of 26 on 3-pointers, entering the night with the franchise playoff record for 3-point attempts at 50.

The Heat closed 17 of 49 from the arc.

Lacking Butler’s defensive presence, the Heat turned to their zone defense, having set an NBA record for most defensive possessions in a season. The Heat had backed off such high volume over the second half of the season.

That approach helped limit the Knicks to 34 points in the paint, six fewer than they had in the first half, alone, in Sunday’s series opener.

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