Jimmy Butler scored a career playoff high 45 points, and the Miami Heat held off Atlanta 115-105 on Tuesday, seizing a 2-0 lead in their first-round NBA playoff series.
The Hawks had pulled within 104-101 in the final minutes before Butler answered with a slam dunk, a 3-pointer and a layup to give coach Erik Spoelstra’s squad a 10-point lead and seal Atlanta’s fate.
“Coach told me to go out there and be a killer, score as many points as possible, so that’s what I did,” Butler said.
Butler made 15-of-25 shots from the floor, 4-of-7 from 3-point range, and sank 11-of-12 free throws while also contributing five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“Just staying aggressive, taking what the defense gives me,” Butler said. “My teammates want me to play like that. I felt like I’m in a groove. I’m comfortable. My guys are always looking for me.”
Eastern Conference top seed Miami took command of the best-of-seven series, which continues Friday in Atlanta.
In other contests Tuesday, Memphis ripped Minnesota 124-96 to level their series 1-1 and New Orleans was at Phoenix.
Atlanta’s Trae Young, kept to a season-low eight points Sunday in an opening loss, had 18 by halftime on his way to 25 points but also committed 10 turnovers.
Butler scored five points to lead an 11-0 Miami run that gave the Heat a 75-62 edge in the third quarter.
Atlanta pulled within 87-76 after three quarters, then made a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter to trim Miami’s lead to 94-90 as Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 19 of his 29 points off the bench in the fourth quarter.
Bogdanovic made a 3-pointer to pull the Hawks within three points to set the stage for Butler’s decisive run.
“We still find a way to stay in front of guys, contest threes, not give away leads,” Butler said.
Ja rules for Memphis
At Memphis, Ja Morant led the host Grizzlies with 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds as the Western Conference second seeds bounced back from an opening upset to knot the series, which resumes Thursday at Minnesota.
“It was my fault. I put guys in tough situations last game,” Morant said. “My job was to come out and correct that and that’s what I did.
“No point to be mad about game one. There’s a lot of basketball to be played. You see what happened.”
The 22-year-old guard scored 11 points in the third quarter, when Memphis pulled away, but suffered a left leg injury taking a hard hit off a screen by Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and went to the locker room.
Morant returned in the fourth quarter and just missed a triple double, and then warned the Grizzlies had their groove back.
“We got that same mindset coming into the next one,” Morant said. “Same fire. Same energy.”
Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson each added 16 points for Memphis, which had seven double-digit scorers.
Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves with 20 points.