Jimmy Butler was looking for a friend. He found it in Goran Dragic.
Playing on an island of excellence with little support in the first half, Butler and the Miami Heat got a needed boost from Dragic in the second half of Thursday night’s 124-108 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Even with Butler scoring 30 points in the first half, the Heat found themselves unable to distance themselves from the equally scrappy Suns.
With Dragic scoring 10 of his 25 points in the third quarter, Butler was able to come up for air on what turned into a 34-point night.
“Jimmy set the tone offensively,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
And then Dragic finished what Butler started.
“He was fantastic, sensational going down the stretch,” Spoelstra said.
With just five points at the intermission against his former team, Dragic converted a four-point play midway through the third quarter and then closed the period with a buzzer-beating 30-pointer, one that had him gesturing with both finger pistols and a tongue wag.
For the Heat, it was a needed turnaround from Tuesday’s 109-89 loss to the Denver Nuggets at the start of this three-game trip that concludes Friday night against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
“It’s a lot easier to do when you get your tail kicked like we did,” Butler said of rebounding from Tuesday.
At 6-2, the Heat are off to their best eight-game start since opening with the same record in 2012-13, when the went on to win the franchise’s third NBA championship.
Five degrees of Heat from Thursday’s game:
1. Jimmy time: Entering with a season high of 21 points, Butler was up to 18 on 6-of-7 shooting by the end of the first quarter.
The 18 points were Butler’s high for any period over his career, regular season or playoffs.
Butler entered with 60 points in his previous four appearances this season.
He then then surpassed his previous season high with a pair of free throws with 2:29 left in the second period, scoring the Heat’s final 12 points of the quarter to stand at 30 at halftime.
It was Butler’s highest-scoring first half over his nine seasons, matching his high for any half. It also was the Heat’s first 30-point half since James in 2014.
“These guys give me all the confidence in the world to go out and be aggressive,” Butler said of his teammates.
The Heat scoring record for a first half remains 31, by James, Dwyane Wade and Sherman Douglas.
“We just played off of his offensive force,” Spoelstra said of Butler. “Really smart basketball, getting to the rim, getting his open looks.”
2. Without Winslow: With Justise Winslow out with a headache after taking a hard blow in Tuesday’s loss in Denver, the Heat went back to the starting lineup that obliterated the Rockets on Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, with Duncan Robinson opening at small forward.
The Heat promptly opened with a 22-10 run before Dragic entered as the Heat’s first reserve, in place of Robinson.
The Heat announced after the game that Winslow had entered the NBA’s concussion protocol, but not must hold off on the required testing until his headaches dissipate.
3. Johnson waits, Jones ailing: With Derrick Jones Jr. pushing through the groin strain that had him questionable earlier in the day, Spoelstra again shuffled James Johnson to the back of his power mix.
Johnson did not enter for the first time until 1:22 remained in the second period, when Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk both had three fouls.
Jones then was lost for the second half, with a strained left hip, closing 1 of 3 from the field, with four rebounds, two assists and two points in his nine minutes.
Jones previously missed four games with the groin strain before returning in Tuesday’s loss in Denver.
That had Johnson back in the game with 5:55 left in the third quarter, helping fuel the Heat’s second-half charge.
4. Challenge time: No sooner was Butler called for a foul in transition with 3:51 to play in the third period and the Heat up 79-74 then he immediately implored Spoelstra to utilize his coach’s challenge.
Spoelstra did just that, calling the requisite timeout required to send the officials to the play monitor.
The Heat lost the challenge, with Cameron Johnson then sent to the line for a pair of throws, which he converted.
5. Lurking Leonard: Leonard doesn’t take many shots, but when he does, he tends to be dialed in. Entering 9 of 14 on 3-pointers, Leonard then drained his two attempts Thursday.