The Miami Heat closed out the Atlanta Hawks last night to move onto the second round of the postseason thanks to Erik Spoelstra's typically stifling defense and a resurgent Victor Oladipo. Notably absent from the court were Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, Miami's two best players. Lowry pulled his hamstring after Game 3, so it wasn't a surprise that he'd sit out. It did come as a shock, though, that Butler wouldn't suit up.
Butler has been dealing with injuries all year but looked just fine during the playoffs. He exploded for a 45-point performance in Game 2 before dropping 36 in Game 4 to push Atlanta to the brink. But with the Heat up 3-1, the team decided they would give Butler rest, ruling him out with knee inflammation and instead try to close out the Hawks on their own. It obviously worked but was a bit of a risky play. It is the playoffs, after all. Anything can happen.
Stephen A. Smith and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo dueled on the subject during the latter's weekly spot on First Take and it went as expected. Smith thought the Heat made the right move. Russo was horrified at a team load-managing during the playoffs and, predictably, brought up epic struggles of yore like Larry Bird battling through a back injury or Isiah Thomas with his legendary ankle injury. The volume rose quickly.
The last 10 seconds really encapsulate Mad Dog. Meandering towards a solid point before yelling "WILLIS REED" and then continuing without any further elaboration.
It was a pretty big chance to take for Miami but they are the No. 1 seed for a reason, just as the Hawks were the No. 8 seed for a reason. It would've taken a borderline miracle for Atlanta to take the series to six games with how Trae Young was playing. The long-term benefit of giving Butler an extra night's rest is certainly more valuable than beating the Hawks by 10 instead of three in an elimination game.
But you know what? Russo is right. It sucks to see a team's superstar bow out of an elimination game for load management. It's the damn playoffs. WILLIS REED!