Jaime Jaquez Jr. enjoyed a "special" Christmas Day as he stepped up in Jimmy Butler's absence, scoring a career-high 31 points for the Miami Heat as they overcame the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler was ruled out for a third straight game with a calf injury, but Miami maintained their 100 per cent record in those contests with a 119-113 victory at Kaseya Center.

The Sixers – who were themselves without Joel Embiid due to a sprained ankle – erased a 21-point Miami lead in the third quarter, but Jaquez scored 10 of his points in the fourth to put the visitors away.

That made the 22-year-old the first rookie to manage at least 25 points and 10 rebounds on December 25 since Patrick Ewing for the New York Knicks in 1985, and he was delighted to see his hard work pay off on the big stage.

"It's definitely special," Jaquez said. "Great to get a win, a career night, on Christmas... I grew up watching these games. 

"To be able to play and have a career night, I just go back to all the hard work, late nights in the gym, just preparing for moments like this."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who is now 9-0 on Christmas, said of Jaquez's performance: "I don't think I called one play for him tonight, literally. 

"I mean, they were in his zone most of the second half. But throughout the rest of the course of the game, I definitely did not call one play for him. 

"He did it with offensive rebounding, transitions, cuts, timely threes, just a lot of plays in between, so you don't really think that it's a 30-point game."

Tyrese Maxey endured a difficult outing for the Sixers, shooting 4-for-20 and finishing with just 12 points, well down on his season average of 25.9.

The star guard lamented his poor shooting as he said of the Miami defense: "They did the normal stuff that I see when I'm out there without Joel.

"The blitzing, the hard showing, but for the most part, I got some really good looks and some shots that I make I don't know, four or five times out of 10. So I guess it was just one of those days."

Giannis Antetokounmpo said playing with Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton was "like heaven" after the trio combined to guide the Milwaukee Bucks to the quarterfinals of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.

The Bucks moved to 13-5 for the season and 4-0 in East Group B for the In-Season Tournament with Tuesday's 131-124 win over the Miami Heat at Kaseya Center.

Milwaukee found themselves down 118-115 with three minutes and 25 seconds to play, but they finished on a 16-6 run to tee up a home game in the last eight, with Antetokounmpo leading the way with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

The two-time MVP was ably supported by Lillard, who posted 32 points and nine assists, and Middleton, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. 

After the game, Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin revealed Antetokounmpo had suggested feeding the ball to Middleton more often, and the star forward said doing so made Milwaukee less predictable.

"It's great, for me it's like heaven when you have two guys that can create their own shots, and I don't have to make something happen," Antetokounmpo said.

"It's great. My whole career it's been that way, and now also we have Khris and Dame that can do that. It makes the game easier for everybody. 

"Them breaking down the defenses is great, but if they can't, they can give the ball to me and I'll spread it to the corners or play one-on-one.

"Offensively, I think guys got to the spots and were able to execute, a few pick and rolls with Dame as the ball handler, a few pick and rolls with Khris as the ball handler… it was great. 

"I think it helps the flow of our offense when it doesn't always have to be Dame and Giannis, then we can play from there.

"I feel like that's where we are, all playing as a team, the energy is better, everybody has more touches of the ball, I think we can be more effective that way."

The Heat were made to pay for the absence of Jimmy Butler, who missed the game with an ankle sprain after averaging 37.6 points as Miami eliminated Milwaukee from the playoffs last season.

Bam Adebayo scored 31 points for Miami, with Kyle Lowry adding 21 and Josh Richardson contributing 20, and head coach Erik Spoelstra was broadly pleased with their display, despite the result.

"I felt like we played a very good basketball game," Spoelstra said. "A very good offensive game, in particular."

Now 10-8 for the campaign and eliminated from the In-Season Tournament, Miami will look to halt their three-game losing streak when they face the Indiana Pacers in a home double-header later this week. 

Erik Spoelstra hailed the "intimate" and "raw" relationships within the Miami Heat's roster after his team overcame the Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals.

The Heat had squandered a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, but Game 7 went their way in emphatic fashion.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 28 points as the Heat won 103-84, ending the Celtics' bid at history in the process.

Boston was aiming to become the first team to win a seven-game series after losing the opening three encounters, but it was not to be.

"It wasn't scripted," Spoelstra told reporters.

"When you have such an intimate relationship with a locker room and they have it with each other, the staff has it with them, they have it with the staff, sometimes it's just whatever's raw, whatever's real at that time.

"Professional sports is just kind of a reflection sometimes of life, that things don't always go your way.

"The inevitable setbacks happen and it's how you deal with that collectively. There's a lot of different ways that it can go. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason.

"With this group, it's steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.

"These are lessons that hopefully we can pass along to our children, that you can develop this fortitude.

"Sometimes you have to suffer for the things that you want. Game 6, the only thing that we can do is sometimes you have to laugh at the things that make you cry."

The Heat are only the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to make the Finals, after the 1999 New York Knicks.

Butler was named the Eastern Conference finals MVP, and has full confidence the Heat can go all the way against the Denver Nuggets.

"I just know why coach Pat [Riley] and coach Spoelstra wanted me to be here," Butler said. "That's to compete at a high level and to win championships.

"I know that the group that they put around me at all times is going to give me an opportunity to do so.

"I know the work that we all put into it, so I know what we're capable of. Nobody is satisfied. We haven't done anything. We don't play just to win the Eastern Conference; we play to win the whole thing."

Spoelstra reserved special praise for the Heat's talisman.

"There's no way to quantify the confidence that he can instil in everybody. Jimmy has never had to apologise," Spoelstra said of Butler.

"I don't want him to ever apologise for who he is and how he approaches competition. It's intense. It's not for everybody, and we're not for everybody.

"That's why we think it's like an incredible marriage. We never judge him on that. He doesn't judge us for how crazy we get. It's the same language. But the confidence level that he can create for everybody on the roster is incredible.

"He's gnarly, but he knows how to have a soft touch to give somebody some confidence at the right time. That's the special gift that he has."

Jimmy Butler said his bust-up with Grant Williams lit the fire within after leading the Miami Heat to a terrific comeback win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.  

Boasting a 96-87 lead midway through the fourth quarter at TD Garden on Friday, the Celtics looked set to level the series at 1-1, only for Butler to lead his team to a huge 111-105 victory.

Butler scored nine of his team-high 27 points after he went head-to-head with Williams in a heated exchange in the fourth quarter, with the Heat closing the game with a 24-9 run.

Asked whether that incident helped to instigate his strong finish to the game, Butler said: "Yes, it did.

"But that's just competition at its finest. He hit a big shot, started talking to me. I like that. I'm all for that. 

"It makes me key in a lot more, it pushes that will that I have to win a lot more. It makes me smile. It does. 

"When people talk to me, I'm like, 'okay, I know I'm a decent player if you want to talk to me, out of everybody that you can talk to'. It's just competition. 

"I do respect him, though. He's a big part of what they try to do. He switches, he can shoot the ball. I just don't know if I'm the best person to talk to."

Heat guard Caleb Martin concurred, suggesting Williams picked the wrong man to provoke. 

"I knew it was going to be good for us," Martin said. "Knowing Jimmy, at that point in the game, if you get him going… we'll take mad Jimmy any time! 

"You could kind of see it in his eyes that he was ready to go after that."

With Miami set to assume home advantage for Game 3 on Sunday, head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat's ability to find new ways to win has been a key feature of their postseason run. 

"It feels like this has just been our existence all year long," Spoelstra said. "I guess nobody is really paying attention. 

"But every single game… it felt like for weeks on end, every game was ending on the last-second shot, whether we're shooting it or the other team is shooting it.

"You develop some grit from that. Whether that turns into confidence or not, sometimes you don't have the confidence, but at least you have that experience of going through stuff and you understand how tough it is."

Victor Oladipo will miss the remainder of the playoffs after the Miami Heat announced he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee in Saturday's 121-99 Game 3 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat on Saturday claimed a surprise 2-1 lead in their first-round series against the Eastern Conference top seed, but the victory was soured by Oladipo's exit with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter.

Oladipo went down on a drive to the bucket following a foul from Bobby Portis, immediately clutching his left knee with an ominous look on his face, before being assisted off the court, sparking major fears for the injury-cursed guard.

"An MRI has revealed that Victor Oladipo suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. He will miss the remainder of the postseason," the Heat announced on Sunday.

The blow comes after Oladipo only played 79 games across the previous three seasons due to a run of injuries.

Oladipo played 42 regular season games this season, averaging 10.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

He joins Heat shooting guard Tyler Herro on the sidelines after he broke his right hand in Game 1, ruling him out of the series.

Heat star Jimmy Butler had an injury scare in Game 3, sitting out the last quarter with a bruised glute, but head coach Erik Spoelstra declared he should be available for Game 4 in Miami on Monday.

Jimmy Butler admitted the Miami Heat will have to improve markedly when they face either the Toronto Raptors or the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference eighth-seed game on Friday in the NBA play-in tournament.

The Heat were beaten 116-105 by the Atlanta Hawks in the seventh seed clash on Tuesday at Kaseya Center.

A slow start from Miami saw them trail by 15 points at half-time, and they were unable to make up that deficit in the second as Atlanta eased to victory to book their place in the playoffs.

Butler scored 21 points with nine assists, but just four rebounds, and he lamented his and his teammates' inability to retrieve the ball all game, with the Hawks making 63 overall to the Heat's 39.

"We have to stay confident," Butler said. "We have to know we are capable of winning, if we start out the right way and if we rebound, obviously.

"But it's just, I don't know, shots don't go in, we foul, that's never the recipe for success with us. So come Friday, we've got to play legit the exact opposite that we played tonight.

"Rebounding was just horrendous. We didn't put body on body and they got all the rebounds, all the second-chance points. And that was the game."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra concurred, adding: "There's probably been a little bit more than a half-dozen times, maybe eight to 10 times, where we have not rebounded where it has just been absolutely crippling, in terms of how it's hurt us.

"We definitely have to get to the film and go back to all the fundamentals. We knew coming into this game, this game would be decided [by] ball in the air, ball on the floor, and it certainly was."

 

Hawks center Clint Capela made an impressive 21 rebounds in the game, and Heat guard Tyler Herro – who scored 26 points – thought bad luck came into play, but admitted that could not be used as an excuse.

"The ball was bouncing their way, literally, the whole game," Herro said. "But that's not any type of excuse to why we couldn't rebound the ball.

"They beat the hell out of us on the glass, so it wasn't even close. So we can point fingers, do whatever, at the end of the day they beat the hell out of us on the boards and that's what it is."

Trae Young starred for the Hawks, scoring 25 points with seven assists and eight rebounds, and he anticipates a tough encounter with the second seed Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

"Obviously, Boston is a really good team," Young said. "But I haven't really looked too far ahead. I mean, obviously I watched them all year. They've been playing really well. But I was really focused on tonight and making sure we won."

Young also referenced Butler's comments from earlier in the week when he said he thought the Heat would get the win, adding: "I know Jimmy guaranteed a dub, so I was really focused on making sure that didn't happen."

Butler praised Young after the game, saying: "He's a hell of a player. He makes all the right reads. Obviously, he's a big time shot-maker, and he even got eight rebounds, so I don't think we took too much away [from] them tonight."

Star Miami Heat wing Jimmy Butler has no interest in embracing the role of underdogs this year as he prepares for a third deep playoff run from his past four seasons.

Butler, 33, led the Heat to a shock NBA Finals appearance back in the 2020 'bubble' playoffs, and after a first-round exit in 2021, the Heat showed they still have plenty in the tank with another Eastern Conference Finals run this past year.

Although few picked them to win multiple rounds last season, the Heat still finished as the top seed in the East with a 53-29 record, which is in stark contrast to their 44-38 campaign this time around that has them seventh.

By finishing seventh, it means the Heat will participate in their first play-in tournament, hosting the Atlanta Hawks for a chance to claim the seventh seed, and if they lose they will play the winner of the nine-ten matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls for the eighth seed.

When asked on Monday if their position in the play-in meant Butler would embrace the underdog tag heading into this postseason, he was clear that is not the case.

"Nope," he said. "It's all the same. Didn't nobody pick us to win last year, either. So who cares. Y'all not going to pick us this year, still don't give a damn. In 10 years, y'all still not going to pick us – still don't give a damn."

Butler carried the Heat all the way to Game 7 against the Boston Celtics last season, narrowly missing out on another trip to the NBA Finals, but he said he does not feel external pressure to perform at the same level.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes for my team to win, night in and night out, and honestly, I could care less what anybody writes, if I was a good basketball player or a bad basketball player," he said. 

"Coach Pat [Riley] and coach [Erik Spoelstra] didn't bring me here because of what y'all write, in the most respectful way possible. 

"As I take on [Tuesday's] matchup and we get that dub, we'll worry about what goes on down the line, but I think I'm going to be a decent basketball player at the end of the day."

Head coach Erik Spoelstra was far less agitated, speaking about how excited he is for the new experience.

"First, I think this is going to be fun," he said. "I think you have to embrace this new experience. 

"To the old heads in our locker room, each of us have experienced long NBA careers and none have had this opportunity. I think it's been great for the league. 

"How harrowing this has been the last six, eight weeks for 16 teams in the West and the East, has just been great for competition."

Erik Spoelstra bemoaned Julius Randle's one-in-100 clutch three that defeated his Miami Heat and continued the New York Knicks' winning run.

The Knicks had won seven straight ahead of Friday's trip to the Heat but looked set to see that streak ended as they trailed by a point with only seconds remaining.

But Randle somehow worked room for a shot after initially fumble the ball on the right sideline and drained a stunning effort from three-point range.

Randle finished with 43 points and eight made threes, but it was understandably that final attempt that so frustrated Heat coach Spoelstra in a 122-120 defeat.

"If you did that play 100 times, 99 times out of that it's going to end up in our favour," Spoelstra said.

"That's just crazy unfortunate luck on our part and good fortune for them. He made a heck of a shot."

"Crazy" was how RJ Barrett described it, too, saying of Randle: "He just went crazy today.

"When you're in a mode like that and you're just making shots like that, the basket just gets bigger. We needed it, for sure."

Randle himself added: "It was fate. It felt good honestly when it left my hand. I was in the zone, I guess."

The forward so caught up in the moment he knocked Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau to the floor as he ran the length of the court to celebrate.

"He's a little mad at me right now," Randle joked later. "I need to talk to him."

The Miami Heat suspended Dewayne Dedmon for one game without pay after the outburst where he swatted a massage gun on to the court in Tuesday's 112-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Dedmon reacted angrily after being subbed out of the game, exchanging words with coaches, before storming off and flinging a massage gun back on to the court during play. The reserve center was ejected by officials for that act.

The Heat announced on Wednesday that in consultation with the NBA they had decided Dedmon would be banned for one game for "conduct detrimental to the team".

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra had labelled the outburst as "unacceptable" after Tuesday's game.

"It's the Miami Heat. We're all a bunch of gnarly personalities," Spoelstra said.

"That part was unfortunate. Everything before that, that's the Miami Heat. That part was unacceptable."

Erik Spoelstra has no doubt the Miami Heat can inflict the sort of brutal defeat that the Boston Celtics doled out in Game 4 as the Eastern Conference Finals heads towards its climax.

A 102-82 loss in Boston on Monday night came on the back of Miami scoring a trifling 11 points in the first quarter, with Jimmy Butler scoring just six points all night and no Heat starter reaching double figures.

The visitors shot just 33.3 per cent from the field (30 of 90), with Boston's win squaring the series at 2-2 and setting up Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday evening as a pivotal occasion.

Coach Spoelstra said: "More than anything, our offense really hurt us at the beginning. They weren't getting the sort of purposeful execution that you need to on the road. [Boston] were able to get some relief points from that and get to the free-throw line. They did a better job of getting into us and rotating guys into the paint."

It was 57-33 by the halfway mark, and Spoelstra admitted the Heat simply failed to ignite. Yet he says Miami can swiftly set the game aside and dominate the next time the teams meet on court, saying it would not surprise him if the tables are turned.

"We've got guys that love these kinds of moments, the playoffs. You've just got to stay together," Spoelstra said.

"This is part of the playoffs. There are these extreme highs and lows, a lot of emotion. You just have to stay the course, stay together. What you're looking at is a great series. It's 2-2. You have to embrace that. Hopefully this competition beings out the absolute best in all of us.

"They got the best of us tonight. We'll take this hit and then get to Miami and get ready for Game 5. Whatever they have done to us, we can do to them."

Jayson Tatum led Boston with 31 points. The Celtics led by 32 points at one stage before Miami began to claw back the deficit late on.

"We're not making any excuses. They outplayed us tonight, for sure," said Spoelstra.

Jimmy Butler said the Boston Celtics "whipped our tail on our home floor" in their 127-102 beatdown of the Miami Heat in Game 2.

The return of Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart from a foot injury ignited the Celtics on the offensive end just as much as defensively, with the team hitting a red-hot 20-of-40 from three-point range.

Boston's five that played at least 30 minutes – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, Al Horford and Smart – shot 17-of-29 from long-range, and combined for 23 assists, which was two more than Miami had as a team.

Speaking to post-game media, Butler said the Celtics "tried to embarrass us", but pointed out that they were always going to be facing an uphill battle against such an outlier shooting performance.

"You do have to move on, but I don't like to move on from this. It has to hurt," he said.

"They tried to embarrass us – they did embarrass us. I think we got to realise that, or use it as fuel, but realise that the game can get out of hand when you're playing against a really good team like them that can score the ball and get stops.

"They made shots that they missed last game. That's just what it is.

"It's going to be hard to beat anybody when they shoot 50 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three. They were the more physical team overall, and they got one on the road.

"Overall, we just have to be better. We've got a tough job to do to go over there and win, but if they did it, we can do it as well."

He added: "I look at it as 'it can't get too much worse'. They whipped our tail on our home floor.

"I guess if they do it on their home floor it's supposed to happen, but I don't see us doing that again. 

"The first half has been brutal for us in both of these games, we just got to come out and play harder from the jump and be ready, because they be throwing some haymakers in the first half."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he did not feel like his side played poorly – but that it felt like the Celtics wanted revenge for Game 1.

"You definitely have to credit Boston," he said. "It's not just that they came in with great urgency and physicality – they did have that, for sure – they also played well. They played really well on both ends.

"We know what they're capable of defensively – they've done this to some very good offenses. I'm sure they were not happy with us putting up 118 in Game 1, and they came out very disruptive. 

"They got us out of our normal rhythm and flow, and the shot-making on the other end was very tough to overcome.

"You get to this point – in the Conference Finals – you just have very good teams. Teams without many weaknesses, it's great competition.

"This only counts as one, and that's what the experiences players and staff in the locker room understand. We don't like it, but they played extremely well."

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Eastern Conference Finals will be an old-school defensive slugfest, and that he feels the best two teams made it.

The Heat needed six games to triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Boston Celtics came back from 3-2 down against the Milwaukee Bucks to get the job done in Game 7.

As a reward for getting their series out of the way early, the Heat will have five days of rest before Tuesday's Game 1, while the Celtics have just one proper rest day between series.

Speaking to the media after Monday's practice, Spoelstra said it is shaping up as a series that will warm the heart of Heat president Pat Riley.

"Pat's [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this," he said. "This is like a throwback series. 

"If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. 

"So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins… really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it's fitting that we're moving into the conference finals.

"Boston has played as well as anyone in the entire league once they got to 2022. It's not by accident. They're playing very strong basketball. They do it on both ends."

Heat star Jimmy Butler was asked about his potential matchup against Jayson Tatum, and he had nothing but praise for the Celtics' best player.

"He's one of the best in the game right now," he said. "As much attention as he draws on the offensive end – and then I think what's really impressive is the way that he's picked up his defensive intensity. 

"You got to tip your hat to that and respect him, I think those are the guys that you want to go up against."

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra lavished praise on Jimmy Butler following his side's 120-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, labelling him the "ultimate competitor."

Without the injured Kyle Lowry, Butler led the Heat with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while keeping turnovers to a relatively low two despite higher usage.

After scoring 33 and 40 points respectively in losses on the road, Butler had more of a supporting crew in Game 5, as six other Heat players scored in double digits.

Spoelstra singled Butler out not only for his versatility, and how that drives the Heat, but his character.

"Jimmy is just such a stable, high IQ…he's got a great feel for what the team needs, and he does it on both ends and that's what's really kind of lost on young players coming into this league," Spoelstra said post-game.

"He has orchestrated so many things for us offensively, particularly with Kyle [Lowry] out, and he's been able to toggle between those roles seamlessly, and make it look a lot easier than it is."

Shots fell for the Heat as they took a 3-2 series lead, converting on 39.4 per cent of attempts from the perimeter and finishing with 26 assists as a team.

Butler finished Game 5 with an impressive defensive rating of 87.7, and Spoelstra believes his competitive spirit is transformative in both individual and collective senses.

"In terms of being just a scoring option tonight, he was that scoring option but also facilitating for us, he was kind of initiating offense for us quite a bit," he said. "You just feel our whole team has a great sense of confidence when the ball's in Jimmy's hands and we leave the decision up to him.

"He's a great competitor in his heart and his soul. He's an ultimate competitor and when you get into competition, he understands the whole deal. You have to be able to do it on both ends.

"That's what he's been doing for us for three years, really competing for us on both ends, but he's able to compete with a ferocity and do it with an incredibly stable mind."

The Philadelphia 76ers still do not know if Joel Embiid will be able to return in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, as he still has "so many steps to go through".

Embiid has not played so far in the second-round series, in which the 76ers now trail 2-0 after another defeat on Wednesday.

Although Tyrese Maxey went off for 34 points, Heat center Bam Adebayo (23 points and nine rebounds) enjoyed another big night in Embiid's absence to inspire a 119-103 win.

The 76ers will hope to get on the board as they head home to Philadelphia, but they may again be without their MVP candidate, who suffered a facial fracture and concussion against the Toronto Raptors in round one.

Coach Doc Rivers could offer no assurances ahead of Game 3, as he told reporters: "I really don't know [if Embiid can play].

"We talked [on Tuesday], and we talked [on Wednesday]. He looked good, as far as talking.

"But he's got so many steps to go through, and I don't think he's cleared any of them right now. So, we just have to wait and see."

Despite the Heat's dominant start, coach Erik Spoelstra remains wary of the series-altering impact of a potential Embiid return.

"It changes dramatically," Spoelstra said. "You're talking about MVP talent, you know? So, we'll just have to see.

"We knew that this series was going to shift, and it was going to change pretty dramatically [if Embiid returns].

"It's better for it to change dramatically when we're able to get a couple wins, but yeah, he changes the equation quite a bit."

On a night where star Jimmy Butler did not have his best showing, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was full of praise for his supporting cast in their 106-92 Game 1 win against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler finished five-of-16 from the field for his 15 points, and did not play at all in the fourth quarter as the Heat extended their lead without him.

Young duo Bam Adebayo (24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) and Tyler Herro (25 points and seven assists) picked up the slack, while P.J. Tucker grinded out 29 tough minutes for 10 points and seven rebounds while spending long stretches on Philadelphia's James Harden.

Speaking with post-game media, Spoelstra said he was not shaken by the 76ers leading at half-time, and he knew Herro's next big performance was just around the corner.

"First of all, 48-minute games are long, and they're a very good team, even without Embiid," he said. "You get a double-digit lead in this league, and in the playoffs, they can disappear like that.

"I think it was just a matter of time before [Herro] was going to get into his rhythm. He's a great player, and he's so skilled. 

"It is just a matter of time, and sometimes you miss shots, [but] I thought in the Atlanta series he was playing good basketball. He just wasn't making some of the shots we're used to seeing him make, then everyone jumps to conclusions about that – but he was playing winning basketball.

"The plays in between – they weren't necessarily play-calls – but it was the plays in between that he was able to be super efficient in. He's a big-time 'X-factor' for us offensively when he's in that rhythm."

Spoelstra then shifted his attention to his starting big-men.

"Those inspiring offensive rebounds, and extra possessions, and extra efforts kind of ignited the whole team," he said. "That was P.J. [Tucker] and Bam [Adebayo] – both of those guys were terrific.

"Defensively we really picked up the intensity, but we did it with a bit more thought and discipline. 

"On both ends of the court, [Adebayo] was so critical. In that second half, whether it was zone or man [defence], he was able to find those open gaps in the paint.

"It wasn't as if we were running specific plays for him, it was just his activity, and his relentlessness, and his assertiveness. Our guys were finding him in the paint, and when the ball was up there he was going after it.

"You can't put an analytic to it – I literally don't know what [Tucker's] stats were – but he has those momentum-shifting plays. These timely, winning plays – and he has a way of doing things that just inspires your whole team. 

"[Tucker] was tremendous on both ends of the court, and that's what winning basketball is meant to look like. He's our best communicator… and he's such an underrated, high-IQ offensive player."

The Heat looked to figure out their opponents in the second half, outscoring the 76ers 56-41 over the last two quarters, but Spoelstra said he knows there is a long series ahead, with plenty of adjustments coming from both sides.

"Doc [Rivers] is a great coach, a brilliant mind," he said. "He'll come up with something, and we'll try to make our adjustments. 

"Even without Embiid, they have some great firepower. Harden creates a lot of things you have to be ultra on-edge about, Maxey has just continued to improve, and Harris was killing us tonight."

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