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Friday, March 1, 2024

Depleted Heat down Hawks, Morant sinks Wolves in thriller

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Victor Oladipo and Bam Adebayo combined for 43 points as the depleted Miami Heat defeated the Atlanta Hawks 97-94 to complete a 4-1 series victory in the NBA playoffs on Tuesday.

Victor Oladipo #4 of the Miami Heat goes up for a layup against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round at FTX Arena on April 26, 2022 in Miami, Florida. Michael Reaves/Getty Images/AFP

Miami, missing injured stars Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, produced a superb defensive performance to shut down Atlanta and advance to an Eastern Conference semi-final series against either Philadelphia or Toronto.

Needing a win to stay alive in the best-of-seven series, Atlanta went toe-to-toe with Miami for much of the first half, with only a handful of points separating the two teams.

But forward Max Strus led a momentum swing with 10 points in a 17-2 Miami run to close the second quarter which left the Heat 54-42 ahead at the break.

Atlanta chipped away at the lead and got to within three points late in the game, but a resilient Miami — with Oladipo and Adebayo outstanding — held on to drag the Heat over the line.

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Oladipo led the Miami scoring with 23 points while Adebayo had 20 points with 11 rebounds.

Tyler Herro had 16 points while Strus added 15 and Caleb Martin 10 from the bench.

The win marked a fairytale first start of the playoffs for Oladipo, whose career has been decimated by multiple injuries and surgeries over the past three years.

Oladipo only returned to action in March after an 11-month injury layoff following surgery to repair a ruptured quadriceps tendon. He had undergone surgery to treat the same problem in January 2019.

“There’s nothing I can’t handle,” Oladipo said after Tuesday’s win. 

“There’s nothing I haven’t gone through. At the end of the day I feel like I can come back and get through anything.

“So when they told me I needed to start tonight, I just stepped up to the plate and did everything I could to help my team win…this is only the beginning.”

Adebayo meanwhile took pride with a Miami defensive performance that restricted Hawks star Trae Young to just 11 points. De’Andre Hunter led the Atlanta scoring with 35 points.

“We knew it was going to be a fight to the end, we just had to finish it with our defense,” Adebayo said. “Defense wins championships.”

Morant magic sinks Wolves

In the Western Conference playoffs meanwhile, Ja Morant scored a gravity-defying last-gasp layup as the Grizzlies produced a dazzling late fightback to stun the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-109.

Morant’s wizardry with one second remaining sealed an enthralling battle which leaves Memphis 3-2 ahead in the best-of-seven series with game six in Minnesota on Friday.

Minnesota had led by 13 points early in the fourth quarter after huge performances from Karl Anthony-Towns, who finished with 28 points and Anthony Edwards (22 points).

But Morant, who finished with 30 points, suddenly found his scoring touch to haul Memphis back into contention.

The 22-year-old rising star of the NBA erupted for 18 points in the fourth quarter as Memphis outscored Minnesota 37-24 in the final period.

Eleven Memphis points came in the final two minutes of the game, before Morant’s late winning layup sealed the win.

Morant, who also had 13 rebounds and nine assists, was backed with a 25-point display from Desmond Bane while Brandon Clarke added 21 points with 15 rebounds.

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