1. If the Orlando Magic were more experienced – with all their functional, skilled size and length – and their shooters a little more developed, they could be a team tailor-made to give Miami problems. But because right now, they’re still very early in the story of this current model, they pretty regularly oscillate between, ‘Wow, they look great’ and ‘Wow, what do they do.’
Such is the life of any young, talented team, this is just one young, talented team that has players that can stand in the HEAT’s way. It’s no surprise, then, that these teams continued to trade streaks, Orlando stringing together multiple bursts of shots only to have their execution fall apart on both ends of the floor for the same amount of time as the HEAT, in a head-to-head game, just continued their slow, steady thing. Orlando opened with a 34-22 lead, forcing turnovers, hitting 3-pointers and getting to the rim, only for Miami to sprint into the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capitalizing on Orlando mistakes. The Magic led by three at halftime, but this was a story of a mongoose trying to wrestle a rock.
Sometimes the mongoose tries to scratch the stone and ends up tripping over it, sometimes the mongoose realizes that it can just pick up the stone and move it. A convoluted metaphor? Could be. That’s exactly what this game was. One team stable, one team wild, all forces conspire to bring both sides together. HEAT. A magical race. Neither team could string together many deep moves, so the colors continued to increase. Orlando by three, still, after three.
Soon after, Orlando up to eight as Jimmy Butler – again the instigator of all good things – got his regular break. Then 13 after a Jalen Suggs three. The last time these teams played, Orlando had a similar lead midway through the fourth that they couldn’t hold onto. Similar story tonight as Butler came back, going on a magnificent and almost entirely own drive, to get Miami within three. Crazy ending, clutch ending as only HEAT games can be. Orlando had multiple chances to clean it up, leaving the window open until the very end. Suggs put Orlando up three with a pair of free throws with five seconds left, but Butler had some magic left as he hit a fake, slant, double-cover, three in the final second to force overtime. Another ridiculous ending to a season full of them.
The Magic opened the extra period by hitting four shots in a row to go up by eight, and that was it, 126-114. Regardless of whether Miami ran out of gas in the matchup or not, Orlando earned it with one last burst of talent and skill.
2. We could probably talk about Butler every time we do this, but the fact that we don’t shouldn’t stop us from acknowledging how dominant he was. Butler already had arguably the best season of his career, at least in terms of his efficiency and mid-range shooting, before the All-Star break, and he’s somehow gotten even better since then, scoring more, using more possessions and adding to his already elite efficiency. There was no shot he couldn’t hit, no defender he couldn’t draw a foul on. It was the same tonight, with Butler single-handedly saving the game in the final six minutes, making his incredibly strong look almost casual until he hit a 3-pointer that was one of the toughest 3-pointers of the season. Other players can put up high points, but you won’t find many more dominant performances than Butler’s 38 on 25 shots. Orlando didn’t have answers just like Cleveland and Atlanta didn’t have answers earlier this week.
While half the basketball world seems to be arguing over the MVP award for the next month, some defending Nikola Jokic, some Joel Embiid, others trying to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo in the discussion, Butler ranks just as high in many, and perhaps most of all, of the same advanced metrics that voters will be watching in early April. Miami doesn’t have the record to put him in the discussion, and his play never really caught the eye of the basketball world until the postseason, you just have to notice, and notice often, that he was just as dominant as he’s ever been, and his impact on the game. – as crude and unsuccessful and aesthetically lacking as it was at times – and his was at or near the same level as everyone else’s.
3. Return and debut tonight. First, Kyle Lowry returned, coming off the bench for the first time in his career since 2013. He finished the game, though, hitting a late 3-pointer that sent Miami into overtime after trailing by 15. Lowry looked mostly Lowry, full of guile and veteran mood.
After Cody Zeller took a hit to the face — requiring stitches under his eye — and had to leave in the first half, Erik Spoelstra called Omer Yurtseven to the bench for his first minutes of the season after missing most of it with ankle surgery. A mostly nondescript night for him in seven minutes, just one rebound on the board, but that shouldn’t matter. It’s good that he’s back.