Jimmy Butler’s knee injury exposes Miami Heat’s lackluster offense

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Jimmy Butler’s knee injury exposes Miami Heat’s lackluster offense

PHILADELPHIA — A few moments after pulling off another defensive miracle, Jimmy Butler grimaced, putting his hands on his knees. He signaled to a teammate to take the ball up the floor on the next possession, and not to wait for him. He couldn’t do the heavy lifting again.

At the end of the first quarter of his Miami Heat’s 105-104 loss in the Play-In Tournament to the Philadelphia 76ers, Butler suffered a right knee injury when Kelly Oubre Jr. fouled him. Throughout the night, Butler limped noticeably. As the Heat’s 12-point halftime lead disappeared and their offense ground down to nothing, Butler largely stood in the corner. The Athletic’s Shams Charania later reported Butler is feared to have suffered an MCL injury.

“Honestly, I thought the adrenaline would kick back in, and I’d be able to move,” Butler said. “That just wasn’t the case. I wasn’t able to do anything on either side of the ball. And I think I hurt us more than I helped us.”

That is up for debate, as Butler provided several key defensive plays to allow the Heat to even sniff winning, offering the possibility of advancing to the playoffs to face the New York Knicks in the 2-7 series. Instead, they will play the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in Miami for the right to face the juggernaut Boston Celtics in the first round. That series will start on Sunday.

What is clear, however, is that Butler’s diminishment is something the Heat offense cannot shoulder. He will get an MRI on his knee on Thursday, and is hoping the results are better than his knee was feeling.

I don’t want to jinx it,” Butler said. “I hope that I’m fine. I hope I wake up (Thursday) and I can still stick a move. Right now, I can’t say that that’s the case.”

The Heat finished the regular season with the league’s 21st-ranked offense, the second-worst of any team still playing, ahead of only the Orlando Magic. They do not have Terry Rozier, the spark-plug guard who was supposed to give Miami the speed lacked by Kyle Lowry, who the Heat traded to acquire him. Rozier has a neck injury and has missed the last five games. He was ruled out for Wednesday’s game more than 24 hours before tip. Duncan Robinson was technically available to play against the 76ers, after missing the regular season’s last four games with a back injury. Coach Erik Spoelstra declined to play him, citing Robinson’s lack of ability to ramp up his conditioning. When asked if Robinson could have played Wednesday, Spoelstra said he could not answer the question. Robinson adds shooting and intuitive cutting to the Miami attack.

What was left, then, was Miami trying to junk up the game with a zone defense, creating turnovers and transition opportunities. That got the Heat to the precipice of winning. When that dried up, Tyler Herro was left to fire away. After starting the game 4-for-17, Herro finished by going 5-for-10 in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 27 points. He had some incredible moments, but those were high-degree-of-difficulty looks without many realistic outlets — especially with Butler more or less stationary.

Herro said he wasn’t bothered by the extra offensive burden he had to carry, but it pushed him past his normal role. Miami ended the night with a bad, but not horrible, 111.8 offensive rating. That was buoyed by what it did in transition. When the Heat had to create something in the half court, it was largely lethargic.

Butler, meanwhile, took just two shots in the fourth quarter, and came off the floor as the game was reduced to fouling and free throws.

“He’s putting himself out there and I really appreciate him for that competitive spirit,” Spoelstra said. “It really stiffened up on him in the second half. He was able to still move a little bit in that second quarter after (Butler initially suffered the injury). But then as the second half went on, it started to limit him a little bit more, just in movement.”

Just his will,” Herro said when asked what he noticed about Butler’s play after the injury. “Obviously, we don’t know his status, but I’m sure the way he was limping and how he reacted to his fall, that he was in pretty bad pain. He continued to play through it just to give his body to the team. Obviously we all know how much this time of the year means to him and getting into the playoffs.”

The Heat still, of course, have an opportunity to do that, whether Butler is available. Their opponent on Friday was worse than .500. Spoelstra’s team has a well-earned reputation for finding ways to win, which the coach referred to after the game. The Heat controlled the turnover battle and the offensive glass all night — at least until the fourth quarter, when Joel Embiid gave them the lead after grabbing an offensive rebound, and the Heat committed two crucial turnovers, including one backcourt violation.

“You feel like we’re going to find a way,” Spoelstra said. “We typically do find a way.”

The latter turnover, though, is an example of what ails Miami. Without Rozier and a healthy Butler, the 76ers put pressure on the Heat in the half court, and it almost led to a few eight-second violations. The simplest basketball tasks are becoming difficult. On Friday, the Heat will have to conjure up a way to book a flight to Boston.

“We will do this the hard way,” Spoelstra said. “That just has to be the path you know right now. Rest up. … We’re going to bring a hell of a game (in front of the) Friday night lights and do this the hard way.”

With a compromised Butler or without him, it cannot get much more difficult for the Heat.

(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)