No Butler, No Problem: 3 Miami Heat Bench Players Step Up in Christmas Win

Miami Heat

Getty Miami Heat players, Precious Achiuwa (L), Avery Bradley (top right), and Goran Dragic, stepped up to big-time to win their home opener on Christmas Day.

When Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler wasn’t able to return to the court after his sprained ankle stiffened up on Christmas, the team didn’t unravel and lose their 23-point lead. The did quite the opposite with Miami’s non-starters stepped up big time.

In particular, Avery Bradley, Goran Dragic, and rookie Precious Achuiwa showed some serious star power in the team’s 111-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Bradley, who made his debut with the Heat on Christmas, notched 12 points, four assists, two rebounds, and two steals.

Post-game, however, Bradley kept the praise on Dragic, and Achiuwa, the latter of whom also had his debut with the Heat on December 25, collecting 11 points, three rebounds, and two assists. Bradley said:

I think this second group is unique in a lot of ways. The talent, obviously. You have some guys that arguably would start on other teams or this team. And you know, they’re able to step up to the plate every single night. [Goran Dragic] is just amazing. He makes the game easier for everyone. Whenever you’re playing with a rookie like Precious that has that energy, that energy transfers to everyone else. We’re able to feed off it and it ends up being contagious. You want to have a guy on the floor like that.

Coach Spo was also impressed by Bradley, who elected to bypass last season’s restart due to family medical concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“He kept himself in great shape when we were in the bubble,” Spoelstra said. “But NBA games are different. He’s just working his way back into this, into the rhythm with a new team, finding a comfort level. So I wanted to bring him along slowly at the beginning of the year. Those plans kind of went out the window, I guess.”

“We were looking at the big picture with this,” Spoelstra continued. “He played so well that we just left him in there.”

Duncan Robinson Called Dragic the ‘Ultimate Leader’ After Their Christmas Win

The showering of Heat love continued when it came to veteran player Dragic. The 34-year-old’s tenure with the Heat is bested only by long-faithful Udonis Haslem, and according to Duncan Robinson, Dragic, who came off the bench to score 18 points with nine assists in 27 minutes of play — he’s the “ultimate leader.”

“Goran’s presence is huge for us,” Robinson said. “He gets us organized. He’s never out of control. He knows where he needs to get. He knows where he can get on the floor. Just his presence out there, particularly offensively, just allows everyone else to just kind of calm down. And that veteran presence is hard to come by. And just the way he does it is the ultimate leader. And you just feel calm when he’s out there on the floor.”

While Robinson himself set a new franchise Christmas record slamming eight 3-pointers and led the team with 23 points against the Pelicans, the 26-year-old also praised Bradley. “It’s no surprise if he comes out and has a performance like he did [ on Friday], even though not playing on Wednesday. That just speaks to who he is as a professional and how he handles himself.”

With Such Depth on the Heat’s Bench, There’s No Rush to Get Butler Back on the Court

GettyJimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat defends Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second quarter at American Airlines Arena on December 25, 2020.

Miami doesn’t play again until Tuesday, when they will host the Milwaukee Bucks in back-to-back home games. According to Heat Nation‘s Brad Sullivan, the Heat will take its time bringing Butler back as to not risk further injury to his ankle.

However, with an already scheduled break until December 29, there’s a good chance Butler will be back in action to help the team take on Giannis and the Bucks.

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