This fight to the finish was different.
This wasn’t playing down to the level of the lottery-bound Charlotte Hornets and losing Sunday at the start of this four-game trip.
This was a game with meaning, against an opponent dominant on its home court, an opponent one spot ahead in the Eastern Conference standings, a moment to make a statement.
So the Miami Heat stepped up to the challenge Tuesday night with a 100-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
With a balanced approach and late moments that mattered from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat showed what they can be on their grittiest of nights, particularly on a night when the 3-pointers also are falling.
Butler led the Heat with 23 points, supported by 18 from Tyler Herro and double-doubles from Adebayo and Caleb Martin. Adebayo finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Martin with 18 and 18.
“I think it shows a lot of growth for us,” Martin said of the bounceback from the loss in Charlotte. “There’s a lot of potential in our team.”
Boosting the effort was the Heat’s 14-of-31 3-point shooting, allowing them to push past an opponent that entered 21-5 at home.
“Some nights are different,” coach Erik Spoelstra understated.
The victory moved the Heat within 1 1/2 games of the Cavaliers for the No. 5 seed in the East.
It was the Heat’s league-leading 35th “clutch” game of the season, a game within five points in the final five minutes, and the team’s 27th game decided by five or fewer, by far the most in the NBA.
“We’re just into the grind,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat’s trip continues with a Thursday night game against the New York Knicks and a Saturday night game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Five Degrees of Heat from Tuesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat went down 11 early, trailed 26-24 at the end of the first quarter, before moving to a 55-52 halftime lead. They then moved ahead by nine in the third, before going into the fourth tied 79-79.
The Heat later tied it 85-85 with 6:35 to play on a Herro four-point play, with a Gabe Vincent 3-pointer later putting the Heat up 92-87 with 4:41 to play.
“Tyler,” Spoelstra said, “was really important for us.”
The Cavaliers later would push back ahead, before two baskets by Adebayo and one by Butler put the Heat up 98-93 with 1:23 left.
Later, with 8.7 seconds left, a Darius Garland 3-pointer drew the Cavaliers within 99-97.
Butler then was fouled with 7.3 seconds left, making just the second for a 100-97 Heat lead.
Without a timeout, Cleveland then played in transition, with Donovan Mitchell off on a tying 3-point attempt just before the buzzer.
“We still had lapses,” Butler said, “but I’m glad the lapses didn’t cost us.”
The Heat won the fourth quarter 21-18.
“There is a beauty in this,” Spoelstra said of winning ugly.
2. Not waiting: While he typically waits to get into the flow of the offense, Butler this time had 11 of the Heat’s first 18 points, taking his first break while already 4 of 6 from the field.
Included in Butler’s early offense was a 3-pointer and drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt. He was up to 14 points on just six shots at halftime.
“We were disjointed at the beginning of the game,” Spoelstra said of Butler stepping up early. “He just went to work.”
While the shots from the field eventually stopped falling, the parade to the foul line proved to be enough. He finished 6 of 16 from the field, 10 of 15 from the line.
“I think whenever I’m attacking, getting to the paint, it makes everybody’s job easier,” Butler said.
3. Martin can: After a recent reluctance to launch his 3-point shot, which he said was created by his quadriceps strain, Martin converted his first four 3-point attempts, including one he banked in.
“His activity just kind of inspires the group,” Spoelstra said. “The ball tends to find energy, it tends to find karma.”
The aggression continued on the boards, with Martin up to eight rebounds by halftime.
He closed 7 of 8 from the field and 4 of 5 from the line.
“I feel like I needed a game like that,” Martin said.
4. Alternative approach: On a night the feathery jumper was off, Adebayo played more in attack mode, including taking the ball directly at Cavaliers shot-blocking center Jarrett Allen for a second-period dunk.
“That’s just me trying to create contact,” Adebayo said of his moment going at Allen.
Scoreless in the first period, Adebayo scored 12 in the second and maintained the aggression from there, finishing 7 of 13 from the field, 4 of 6 from the line.
“You can control or impose the will on the game defensively or you can do it with your will and assertiveness offensively,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo doing both. “And tonight we needed that.”
5. Mindful approach: Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff expressed caution pregame when asked about the approach to a Heat team that led the NBA last season in 3-point percentage but entered near the bottom of the league.
He proved prescient.
“You know what guys are capable of,” he said. “And you know which guys over there are capable of making shots. So you have to treat them with the same level of respect. But you do have to take into account what’s happening now.”
The Heat then opened 12 of 24 on 3-pointers, closing better than 40 percent on 3-pointers for just the sixth time this season.