Butler strong down stretch, Heat hold off Celtics 130-124

Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler (22) shoots at the basket as Boston Celtics' Evan Fournier (94) tries to block in the second half of a basketball game, Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

By KYLE HIGHTOWER

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON (AP) — Jimmy Butler had 26 points and 11 assists to help the Miami Heat hold off the Boston Celtics 130-124 Sunday as the teams fight for position in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.

Duncan Robinson added 22 points and Bam Adebayo finished with 20 for Miami, which increased its lead over Boston to two games for sixth place in the standings. The Heat (37-31) now have the same record as fifth-place Atlanta, but the Hawks own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

It is the first of two straight games between Miami and Boston, which meet for the final time during the regular season on Tuesday.

“It always feels great win,” Butler said. “But I don’t think that we closed the game like we’re supposed to or capable of either. So at the same time we’ve got to be better.”

Evan Fournier scored 30 points to lead the Celtics (35-33), who have lost three out of four as they try to avoid the play-in round of the playoffs. Jayson Tatum added 29 points and Kemba Walker finished with 18.

Boston struggled offensively without All-Star Jaylen Brown, who missed his third straight game with a sprained right ankle. Big man Robert Williams III tried to play through turf toe in his left foot, scoring four points in 11 minutes in the first half. But he labored on it at times and was scratched for the second half.

“When we’re not completely engaged for whatever reason, we’re just not good,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “When we’re completely engaged, we’re a good basketball team. When we’re not, we’re not even close to being able to compete with anybody, let alone a team like Miami.”

Miami led by as many as 26 in the first half before Boston stormed back, opening the third quarter on a 22-8 run to get within 12 points.

The Celtics kept chipping away and cut it all the way to 113-107 with 4:51 to play on a layup by Walker.

It was 118-109 when Fournier got free in the corner for a 3. But Robinson answered with his own 3 on Miami’s ensuing possession to push the lead back to 121-112.

Walker turned it over on Boston’s next trip and Adebayo scored on a put back to get the lead back to double digits.

Miami was able to close things out at the free-throw line.

Despite having its lead eroded in the second half, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra he liked the early effort.

“The menu was diverse and a lot fo guys felt like they were in rhythm and involved. That’s when we’re at our best. When there’s a lot of different threats,” Spoelstra said.

Knicks 106, Clippers 100

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Derrick Rose scored 25 points off the bench, Reggie Bullock added 24 and the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Clippers 106-100 on Sunday to snap an eight-game skid at Staples Center.

Bullock made five 3-pointers against his former team and RJ Barrett had four on his way to 18 points. The Clippers are the NBA’s best 3-point shooting squad, but they were just 12 of 35.

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 29 points. Paul George added 18 and Nicolas Batum had 13 as the playoff-bound team’s two-game winning streak ended in its home finale of the regular season.

The Knicks led by 10 early in the fourth, when they made three 3-pointers, and the Clippers dissolved in miscues and misses.

Leonard returned to the game with 5 1/2 minutes left, scoring five in a row to pull the Clippers to 96-90. He and George combined to score all of the Clippers’ final 15 points. Leonard’s 3-pointer cut the Knicks’ lead to 104-100, but Taj Gibson made a pair of free throws to seal it.

Julius Randle finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Knicks, who had plenty of supporters cheering despite the limited attendance.

Trailing 62-61, the Knicks outscored the Clippers 18-12 to close the third leading 79-74. New York’s run was fueled by four 3-pointers, including three by Bullock, to give the Knicks their largest lead to that point.

The Knicks missed their first seven shots of the game while the Clippers raced to a 10-point lead. But the Knicks recovered to tie it up before falling behind by nine in the second quarter.