The Miami Heat got back on track on Thursday night, snapping a mini two-game losing streak with a nail-biting 115-110 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. There were 11 ties and 11 lead changes, and neither team led by more than 10 points in what was an entertaining back-and-forth battle.
As he so often does, Jimmy Butler took over down the stretch, scoring the final eight points for the Heat to help them get over the finish line and send the Clippers to fourth defeat in five games. Though Kawhi Leonard is now back in the fold, he did not play in this game on the second night of a back-to-back -- both defeats in Florida for the Clippers that dropped them to ninth place in the crowded Western Conference.
Butler's heroics and the Clippers' free fall are worth storylines from this matchup, but it's also worth touching on Bam Adebayo's big night. He finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds on 14-of-21 from the field in an outing that reinforced how much the Heat need his scoring -- especially this season given their injuries and depleted roster.
Adebayo has long been an elite defender, and his screening and playmaking from the high post have made him an integral part of the Heat's offense. Scoring, though, has never been his forte. But over the past few weeks there has been a marked change in Adebayo's aggressiveness and output in that department. Four of his 11 career 30-point games have come this season, including three in the past two weeks. The Heat are 4-0 this season (and 8-3 all-time) when Adebayo scores at least 30 points.
Against the Clippers he got off to a slow start, scoring two points in the first quarter. He started to pick things up in the second quarter, though, before taking over in the third, when he scored 15 points and almost single-handedly kept the Heat in the game while the Clippers caught fire.
All 14 of Adebayo's baskets came in the paint, as he showed off some nifty isolation scoring from the post, finished well in the pick-and-roll and hit the glass to earn himself and the Heat some second-chance points. By far the most impressive move of the bunch came late in the third when Adeabyo caught the ball in the mid-post, used an escape dribble to get away from the double team, then spun and drove for a reverse layup.
Adebayo isn't much of a jump shooter -- he's taken nine 3-pointers and is making 42.2 percent of his mid-range attempts -- but he's agile and has some real craft when he puts the ball on the deck like that.
The trick now will be for Adebayo to keep up this approach. Asking him to get 30 points a night may be too much, but if he could go from the 19.1 points he averaged last season to somewhere in the mid-20s it would be a real boost to a Heat team that's languishing in 25th in the league in offensive rating at 109.5.
"My teammates want me to be assertive," Adebayo said. "They want me to look for my shots, they're finding me in the pocket. Biggest thing I can do is just keep shooting."