The Miami Heat earned a 130-124 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday in a key battle for seeding in the Eastern Conference.
Both teams are hoping to finish inside the top six in the standings to avoid the play-in tournament, but the latest win gives the Heat (37-31) a two-game lead over the Celtics (35-33) for the No. 6 seed with four games remaining.
This was the first of two straight games between these squads at TD Garden, and it was Miami that grabbed the win thanks to 26 points from Jimmy Butler.
A hot-shooting start helped the Heat build a 79-53 halftime advantage on the road, and Miami maintained a 21-point edge through three quarters. Boston fought back in the fourth, including an early 12-0 run, to keep it competitive.
The lead dwindled to six in the final minutes before a clutch Duncan Robinson three helped seal the win.
Jayson Tatum scored 29 and Evan Fournier chipped in with 30, but the Celtics couldn't close the gap and overcome the absence of Jaylen Brown, who missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.
Jimmy Butler, SF, MIA: 26 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds
Bam Adebayo, C, MIA: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals
Duncan Robinson, SG, MIA: 22 points, 6-of-10 from three
Jayson Tatum, SF, BOS: 29 points, 6 assists, 2 blocks
Evan Fournier, SF, BOS: 30 points, 8 assists
Kemba Walker, PG, BOS: 18 points, 6 assists
Heat Showcase Scoring Depth in Offensive Explosion
The Heat have displayed impressive offensive balance throughout the year, and that is especially true of late. Six different players had reached 20 points at least once in the last four games entering Sunday, while four more had at least 14 in a game during that stretch.
This trend continued against the Celtics.
Miami was on fire in the first half with a historic 79-point showing:
The team shot 65.1 percent from the field and 11-of-20 from three-point range in the opening 24 minutes.
Perhaps the most unbelievable part of the hot start was that leading scorer Jimmy Butler took just one shot from the field in the first half, while Bam Adebayo had just two field-goal attempts.
It was the role players who took over, with Tyler Herro and Trevor Ariza scoring from everywhere:
Duncan Robinson was dangerous from the perimeter, hitting six threes.
Butler wasn't exactly invisible, as he filled up the stat sheet with 11 assists, eight rebounds and two steals to go with his usually strong on-ball defense. The All-Star showed in the first half he is willing to take a back seat offensively, although he proved he can take over as needed in the second.
Anytime Boston cut the deficit, it was Butler who came through with a big bucket.
He also hit his first three-pointer in nearly a month late in the game when Miami needed it. He was the best player on the floor and knew exactly when to pick his spots.
With some help from the supporting cast, Miami was able to hold on for an important win.
Evan Fournier Looks to Provide Late Boost for Celtics
The Celtics barely saw Evan Fournier after acquiring him in a deadline trade as a result of health and safety protocols, but he appears back to full strength at the perfect time.
The former Orlando Magic forward was a key part of the Celtics' comeback Sunday, scoring 14 of his 30 points in the third quarter. His contributions helped make the game competitive after an initial 26-point deficit.
The veteran has now scored at least 17 points in four straight games, providing a much-needed boost while Brown nurses his ankle. Serving as a focal point of the scoring attack should only make Fournier more comfortable in his role as an offensive spark when the team is back to full strength.
Meanwhile, rookie Aaron Nesmith's growth is encouraging, as the 21-year-old matched a career high with 16 points. The lottery pick has seen more playing time recently and rewarded the team with solid play.
Nesmith is known for his ability to stretch the floor and shot 2-of-5 from three-point range against the Heat. He also showed the toughness to match up with bigger opponents.
We know what Jayson Tatum is capable of, but the added production from the wing can go a long way toward keeping the Celtics season alive.
The Heat and Celtics will run it back in the same location on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.