MIAMI — Well this certainly thickens the plot.
In a game that rekindled the passion of Miami Heat-New York Knicks from a previous era, the Heat produced a 127-120 statement victory Wednesday night at Miami-Dade Arena that also made a statement in the standings.
Not only did the win put the Heat into a virtual tie with the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, the final direct ticket into the playoffs, but also moved Erik Spoelstra’s team within two games of the Knicks for No. 5.
The Heat not only next host the Nets on Saturday night, but also play next week in New York, with the chance to take the playoff tiebreaker from the Knicks (the Heat already have lost the tiebreaker to Brooklyn).
Down now to eight games remaining in their regular season, and still with work to do to avoid the play-in round for seeds Nos. 8-10, the Heat again got a leading-man performance from Jimmy Butler, who closed with 35 points.
But there also was plenty in support, including 22 points from Tyler Herro, 19 from Gabe Vincent and 15 from Bam Adebayo.
In addition, point guard Kyle Lowry again played as a settling force late for the Heat, finishing with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Knicks forward Julius Randle, who was coming off a 57-point game Monday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves and scored 43 in the teams’ previous meeting, this time closed with 15 on 7-of-16 shooting, but had a season-high nine assists.
Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:
— 1. Closing time: The Knicks led 32-31 after the first quarter, with the Heat then moving to a 64-61 halftime lead. The Heat then went up 11 in the third, before taking a 92-86 lead into the fourth.
From there, the Knicks went up two early in the fourth, before the Heat pushed back to a 108-102 lead with 5:10 to play on a Herro 3-pointer, with a Max Strus 3-pointer then extending the Heat lead to 111-102 with 4:35 remaining. Another Herro 3-pointer followed for a 114-102 lead with 3:54 to play.
But, still not over, with the Knicks drawing with 123-118 with 42.2 seconds to play on a R.J. Barrett 3-pointer.
The Heat held on from there, boosted by Herro’s 14 fourth-quarter points.
— 2. Butler’s way: Not only did Butler convert a pair of first-half 3-pointers, but after draining the second one he playfully stared down Dwyane Wade, who was seated courtside.
Butler was up to 16 points by the intermission, while also taking frequent defensive turns against Randle.
He then had 27 through three quarters, before taking his traditional rest at the top of the fourth., returning with the Heat up one with 6:32 to play.
He closed 11 of 19 from the field, including 2 of 2 on 3-pointers, with nine assists, four rebounds and four steals.
— 3. Unexpected boost: Vincent was up to 15 points by the intermission, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers.
Early in the second half, Vincent and Butler were tied for the game’s scoring lead, with 19 points apiece.
Vincent’s second 3-pointer moved him past Daequan Cook for 20th on the Heat all-time list.
Then, as was the case in Sunday night’s victory over the Detroit Pistons, he watched as Lowry took the fourth-quarter minutes at point guard.
— 4. Center stage: The Heat not only opened defensively with Kevin Love at center, so Adebayo could defend Randle, but then went with undersized Haywood Haywood as the first player off the bench in the power rotation.
The Highsmith move came instead of utilizing center Omer Yurtseven, who has received scant playing time in his return from November ankle surgery.
In keeping with the small-ball approach, the Heat also kept Orlando Robinson inactive on his two-way contract, despite being eligible to be active for four of the Heat’s final nine games.
— 5. Still out; still in: Remaining out of the rotation was guard Victor Oladipo, who has been the case lately in the games Lowry has been available.
Lowry made his first two 3-point attempts to move to 11 of 17 from beyond the arc since his return.
With the appearance, Lowry tied Michael Jordan and Marvin Williams for 99th on the NBA all-time regular-season games list.