The Miami Heat had been rolling, hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference for most of the season. This week, though, has not gone so well. Miami has lost two in a row to top teams either playing undermanned (Philadelphia was missing Joel Embiid and James Harden on Monday) or severely undermanned (the Warriors had no Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, or Draymond Green on Wednesday).
For a team that prides itself, often to obnoxious degrees, on being mentally and physically tough, sometimes to the point of fighting other teams, it’s not particularly surprising that those losses boiled over during a 19-0 Warriors run in the third quarter. Jimmy Butler somehow managed to piss off both Udonis Haslem and Erik Spoelstra enough to turn this into a bench-wide scuffle with Bam Adebayo holding back the former, and the latter chucking his clipboard in anger.
Let’s see it from another angle:
After that, Miami seemed to find a new gear, clawing back to retake the lead early in the fourth, but couldn’t seal it as the Warriors outscored the Heat 37-24 in that final frame. Jordan Poole led the way for Golden State with 30 points, including two threes and a three-FT trip to the line in the final five minutes to seal the deal. While the bench meltdown led to an initial burst of energy and a 19-6 run for Miami, it wasn’t enough to not lose consecutive games for the first time since February 1.
So, what happened in the huddle? As is tradition for the secretive Heat organization, no one is saying anything hinting at whatever Butler did to piss everyone off. Kyle Lowry would only say that it won’t affect the team going forward because they “have great leadership.” P.J. Tucker was similarly tight-lipped, asking in jest, “Something happened?” Spoelstra brushed it off with a joke about everyone arguing about postgame dinner plans, before just chalking it up to the usual: competitiveness.
Given that Spoelstra asked Butler if he wanted to “fucking fight” him in the middle of a game, it seem like it was more than that.
It’s probably pretty simple, though. Butler played below his standard in a tough game, with some lackadaisical defense and passive offensive possession, en route to an unspectacular stat line. Even against a Warriors team missing its star trio, Miami needed more from its best player at home, and someone probably said as much to Butler, and he reacted with his usual elan.
Miami is still 1.5 games up on the Bucks, Celtics, and Sixers in the East, and on Friday have a chance to take out some of these frustrations on the 31-42 Knicks. Whether the bench altercation was merely a sign of a competitive team getting on each other’s nerves or something deeper that could threaten to derail a great season is yet to be seen, but if Miami should be trailing late against New York? Maybe we’ll get a brawl reminiscent of the ’90s Heat-Knicks rivalry, and the Knicks won’t even have to take part.