Without Butler, Heat defense still enough to eliminate Hawks with Game 5 win
Miami entered this series with the fourth-best defense in the NBA this season. Atlanta entered with the second-best offense, fueled by an All-NBA level season from Trae Young.
Except in the playoffs, an elite defense can make life difficult for any player. It will take away option No. 1 in the offense.
Miami did that against Young, who was 2-of-12 for 11 points in Game 5 and struggled throughout this series against the length and physicality of the Heat defense.
Atlanta lacked the secondary shot creator and scorers needed to overcome that defense — De’Andre Hunter tried in Game 5, scoring 35 before he fouled out (on a soft call for a sixth foul), but it was not enough. Not on a night Victor Oladipo stepped up with a team-high 23 and kept getting to the rim and breaking down the Hawks’ defense.
Without Jimmy Butler or Kyle Lowry, Miami held off a late Atlanta rally to win Game 5 97-94 and take the series 4-1.
Miami will now wait for the winner of the Philadelphia/Toronto series, with the earliest possible start being this weekend.
Atlanta will go into the offseason with a clear picture of the next steps this team needs to take to compete with the best in the East.
Game 5 was not the beautiful game. The Heat struggled out of the gate, missing their first dozen shots outside the paint, seven of those were 3s. This is where Oladipo kept the Heat in it early, getting to the rim and hitting shots they needed.
Miami was able to load up on Young and keep him in check — the lack of spacing in the Atlanta offense allowed the Heat to do that without paying a price. Atlanta had a good plan crashing the offensive glass to take advantage of the undersized Heat — the Hawks grabbed the offensive rebound on a third of their missed shots in Game 5.
Without Butler the Heat offense was inconsistent, but a 17-2 run to close out the first half made it 54-42 at the break. Miami was able to hold the lead the rest of the way.
Atlanta made it close late with a run, but the Heat defense was able to get the stop on the final play.
The Hawks have their core locked in with Young, John Collins, Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic locked in, and they can try to reach an extension with Hunter. But the need for floor spacing and defense is evident if the Hawks want to return to where they were a season ago.
Miami has its sights set on the return to the Finals, and the next step in that path comes this weekend.