Until Sunday, it was a relatively simple exercise to pick out the Miami Heat’s best road victory of the season.
There was the Oct. 26 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, in the Heat’s road opener – and that was it.
“Coach let us know that,” forward Caleb Martin said of Erik Spoelstra’s pregame messaging. “He put that on the board, 1-7, which I didn’t even obviously realize. But just to put it in perspective for us, just to see it on the board, it’s pretty disgusting.”
Sunday night, what had been a road to ruin turned into a 106-98 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena, snapping the Heat’s seven-game road losing streak.
It was a victory that came in the continued absence of Jimmy Butler, as well as the injury absences of Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent and Nikola Jovic.
Against the opponent they pushed aside 4-1 in the first-round of last season’s playoffs, the Heat again looked road weary early, falling behind by 11 early, before rallying in the third quarter and putting it away in the fourth.
Again leading the way to make it a three-game winning streak was center Bam Adebayo, who followed up Friday night’s 38 points against the Washington Wizards with 32 points more.
“We played through him in the post when we needed to control the game,” Spoelstra said.
There also was the first career triple-double from Tyler Herro, who closed with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Those numbers came despite shooting 3 of 13 from the field and 0 for 8 on 3-pointers.
“A really important lesson that you can find different ways to impact a win,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat also got 20 points from Caleb Martin, 16 points from Max Strus and nine points and nine assists from Kyle Lowry.
Five Degrees of Heat from Sunday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Hawks led 31-23 at the end of the first quarter and 60-51 at halftime, before the Heat moved to an 85-81 lead entering the fourth.
Then, on a Martin 3-pointer with 8:05 to play, the Heat extended their lead to 96-86, with a Dru Smith 3-pointer 29 seconds later giving the Heat the game’s largest lead to that stage at 99-86.
The Heat’s lead eventually got to 14, but the Hawks then trimmed it to 104-96 on a Trae Young basket and Herro technical foul.
But the Heat held on from there, snapping the road skid, behind solid play from the second unit.
“That group has been playing better,” Spoelstra said.
Of Smith & Co. allowing the Heat veteran to get some fourth-quarter rest, Lowry said, “Thank you Dru and that unit. Appreciate you.”
The Heat held Young to three fourth-quarter points and Dejounte Murray to five in the period.
“To hold them under 100 with their firepower says something,” Lowry said.
2. Adebayo, again: Two nights after coming up three points shy of his career high against the Washington Wizards, Adebayo was up to 14 points at halftime.
He then went out and added 14 more in the third quarter.
Spoelstra said the consistent growth from his center has been tangible.
“I think he should always be in the consideration for Most Improved Player,” Spoelstra said, “just how much his game changes year after year after year.”
Adebayo closed 13 of 20 from the field.
“I’m in a flow,” he said.
But Herro noted, “The shots he’s hitting are not easy shots.”
And not only was it Adebayo dominating in the middle, it also was backup center Dewanye Dedmon providing needed relief during the Heat’s fourth-quarter run, allowing Adebayo to exhale.
Dedmon finished with 13 points and six rebounds in his 14:16.
3. Back, and back at it: Strus was back, and back in the starting lineup, after missing the previous two games due to a shoulder issue.
He then came out with 11 first-quarter points, converting all three of his 3-point attempts in the quarter.
At halftime, Strus was 4 of 7 on 3-pointers, the rest of the roster 1 for 9 (with that conversion by reserve center Dewayne Dedmon).
“He just does a lot of things that help your team,” Spoelstra said, with Strus limping to the postgame bus, apparently favoring an ankle.
4. Waiting on Butler: Spoelstra said Butler is making gains, even as he remained behind in Miami, missing his sixth consecutive game with a sore right knee.
“He’s able to get some really good work in Miami,” Spoelstra said. “He is definitely getting better and we’ll just see how the week goes.”
The expectation is Butler rejoins the team in Boston, where the Heat play the Celtics on Wednesday and Friday nights.
Added to the injury report Sunday was Jovic, listed for the first time with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“I think this has just been activity,” Spoelstra said, with Jovic starting the six previous games prior to Sunday. “We’ll be able to manage it.”
5. Playoff fallout: Atlanta coach Nate McMillan did not mince words pregame. He said his team’s offseason makeover was a direct result of being ousted by the Heat in five games in last season’s opening playoff round.
Weeks after that demise, the Hawks traded three first-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs for Murray.
Asked what his team’s playoff loss showed him, McMillan said, “That we needed to get better. We needed to be more physical. We needed to be able to execute against a switching defense, as Miami put on the floor. Basically they switched one through five, and they feel comfortable with their guards guarding big and their bigs guarding guards. And they won that matchup.
“So we had to try to go out and get another player, which we did, to give us some extra kind of firepower to attack that style of play.”
Said Spoelstra, “I view their team as totally different with Murray.”