For weeks, as his team squandered sizable advantages, Erik Spoelstra warned his players no lead should be considered safe.
Then the Atlanta Hawks went up 26 on Spoelstra’s Miami Heat in Monday’s second quarter and the lead proved sufficient. Such is the Heat’s lack of 3-point shooting this season.
In an uneven effort, even with the starting lineup closer to whole, the Heat fell 121-113 at State Farm Arena, snapping their three-game winning streak and ruining the chance to move a season-best five games above .500.
“You could see it. You could feel it. It’s not rocket science,” Spoelstra said. “We brought a less-than-best effort and focus in the first half and they’re an explosive offensive team. They got in a great groove. By the time we finally committed to the effort and toughness defensively, it was probably five minutes left in the half, six minutes left in the half.”
Jimmy Butler did his part, with 34 points, with Bam Adebayo adding 20 points and 13 rebounds. But even with starters Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin returning to the mix, the Heat could not sustain on the road the success they had in winning their previous three games at home.
“The most important thing is that they’re back and able to play those minutes,” Spoelstra said, with Martin going 26 and Herro 31. “Caleb’s energy in the second half was terrific, outstanding.
“Tyler was trying to get in a rhythm in the first half. He finally got in a better rhythm in the second half. And these are things to be expected.”
For as much as the Heat’s defense had come together in recent weeks, it unraveled during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee, with the Hawks shooting .592 and the Heat never leading. That, combined with 8-of-31 3-point inaccuracy eventually did in the Heat.
“We’ll be alright,” Butler said. “We lost one. We let one slip away. But they’re a good team. They won a lot of games at home. Put this one behind us and move on.”
Five Degrees of Heat from Monday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat allowed .632 shooting and committed seven turnovers to trail 38-26 at the end of the first period. The Hawks’ six first-period steals tied their high for a quarter this season, with the 38 points tying their highest-scoring first period.
The Hawks then pushed their lead to 26 in the second period, before taking a 70-50 lead into the intermission.
The Heat closed within seven in the third period, before going into the fourth down 91-80.
Eventually, a 7-0 run midway through the fourth quarter put the Hawks up 109-94.
From there, the Heat trimmed the deficit to 111-104 with 2:47 to play on a Martin dunk, with Butler following with a dunk to cut the deficit to 111-106. But a 3-point by Dejounte Murray with 1:36 left boosted the Hawks to a 114-106 edge.
The Heat then twice got within four, including 117-113 with 34.3 seconds left, after five consecutive points from Herro.
“We just couldn’t quite get it over the hump,” Spoelstra said.
It left the Heat shaking their heads.
“When you look at that first half,” Adebayo said, “it’s like a total different team in the second half.”
2. Attack mode: Butler again was in his trademark attack mode, closing 11 of 11 from the line and 11 of 16 from the field. His 10-point third period included a 3-pointer and a 3-point play.
He then went over the 30-point mark in the fourth quarter by converting all three foul shots on a three-shot foul.
“Tonight it wasn’t enough,” Butler said.” Maybe I should have done a little bit more early on. But it’s always going to be a group thing. It’s always going to be a team thing. So we’ve got to figure it out together.”
The problem was that with Herro off with his shot on a night he missed his first seven 3-point shots and Victor Oladipo playing more as playmaker, with a season-high 10, the Heat proved unable to endure Butler’s rest at the start of the fourth, then having to rest Adebayo when Butler returned.
3. Almost whole: With Martin and Herro back, the Heat were one player shy of their preferred starting lineup, with point guard Kyle Lowry missing his fourth consecutive game due to knee discomfort.
Unlike sidelined Nikola Jovic (back), Duncan Robinson (finger) and Omer Yurtseven (ankle), who remained behind, Lowry is on the trip that continues Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans and concludes Friday against the Dallas Mavericks.
“Certainly the fact that he’s on the trip shows that he’s still going to be on that day-to-day protocol, and we’ll just have to continue to let him and the trainers do their work,” Spoelstra said. “Eventually, one of these days, he’ll be ready to go.”
That had Gabe Vincent in the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game.
4. Still no Dedmon: Veteran center Dewayne Dedmon has yet to play in his two games back from his Heat one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Spoelstra again went with undrafted rookie Orlando Robinson as the sole backup center beyond Adebayo, with Robinson playing 11:50.
Dedmon was suspended after words with Spoelstra during last Tuesday night’s home victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, sitting out Thursday night’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Monday was the first game since Dedmon became trade eligible Sunday.
Dedmon and 42-year-old captain Udonis Haslem were the lone available Heat players not to see action.
5. Meaningful moment: Spoelstra said it was important to appreciate the significance of playing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I think it’s a great day of reflection and celebration, and hopefully it always continues into action,” he said. “I know I always think if he was still living, what would he do in today’s time right now to really try to drive change, and what would he think about where we all are?
“I know he would see progress, for sure. But there’s still a long way to go. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we all need to be a part of it.”