MIAMI – Jimmy Butler stepped back onto the court in his usual time slot, midway through the fourth quarter, with the Miami Heat clinging to a one-point lead.
Not even three minutes later, the lead was 12 — and the Heat were on their way to a needed win.
Butler finished with 35 points and nine assists, Tyler Herro scored 14 of his 22 in the pivotal final quarter and the Heat moved closer to escaping play-in tournament range by beating the New York Knicks 127-120 on Wednesday night.
“Fourth quarter is winning time,” Herro said. “That’s when my scoring is needed most.”
Herro made four 3-pointers in the fourth for the Heat, who led by 11 in the third, lost the lead briefly, then took the lead back for good with a 16-2 run midway through the final quarter.
Herro and Max Strus each had a pair of 3′s during the clinching run for Miami (40-34), which is now just percentage points behind Brooklyn (39-33) in the race for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Nets visit the Heat on Saturday.
“Must-win,” Herro said.
Gabe Vincent scored 19, Bam Adebayo scored 15, Kyle Lowry had 14 and Strus finished with 11 for Miami — in what became the 700th career win for coach Erik Spoelstra.
New York’s Julius Randle, coming off a 57-point effort Monday against Minnesota, was held to 15. RJ Barrett scored 26 for the Knicks, who got 25 from Jalen Brunson and 22 from Quentin Grimes.
The Knicks cut what was a 12-point deficit with 3:54 left down to five on a 3-pointer by Barrett with 42.2 seconds remaining.
Butler made a pair of free throws to push the lead back to seven, Brunson missed two free throws with 22.3 seconds left and that essentially sealed matters for Miami.
New York shot 71% in the fourth — but allowed Miami to shoot 67% in that period, and the Heat were 6 for 7 on 3′s in the final quarter.
“They played really well,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought it was a hard-fought game, but our defense obviously wasn’t good enough.”
Knicks: New York played the front end of its 12th and final back-to-back of the season. ... The Knicks have trailed by double digits in four consecutive games, tying their second-longest such streak of the season. New York faced deficits of at least 10 points in five straight games from Oct. 28 through Nov. 5.
Heat: Cody Zeller (broken nose) missed his fifth consecutive game. ... Butler played in his 59th game of the season. That’s the most he has logged in any of his four Heat seasons; he played in 58 of a possible 73 in the pandemic-altered 2019-20 season.
The Heat had a pregame tribute and moment of silence dedicated to the life of Knicks legend Willis Reed, who died Tuesday.
“Obviously, we all know what he meant and continues to mean and will always mean to our organization, the city and the NBA,” said Thibodeau, adding “he embodied everything you want a Knick to be.”
Thibodeau devoted the entirety of his pregame availability to telling stories about Reed and detailing his interactions with him.
During the Knicks broadcast on MSG Networks, analyst and fellow Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier also raved about Reed — his friend and former teammate. “He made me the player who I am and the man that I am off the court as well,” Frazier said.
Spoelstra is the fourth coach in NBA history to win at least 700 games with one team. Gregg Popovich entered Wednesday with 1,363 wins with San Antonio, Jerry Sloan had 1,127 with Utah and Red Auerbach had 795 with Boston.
Knicks: Visit Orlando on Thursday.
Heat: Host Brooklyn on Saturday.
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