Getty Kevin Love of the Miami Heat

Miami Heat forward Kevin Love hadn’t played in nearly two weeks, a decent miss for four straight games as he was benched in the starting lineup in favor of forward Haywood Highsmith. But with both Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro out Saturday against Atlanta, coach Erik Spoelstra dusted Love off and allowed him into the game for 14 minutes, setting up an improbable shorthanded victory.

Love made the most of his time, shooting 2-4 from the field and grabbing four rebounds with two assists. He made a 3-pointer on four attempts, and when he was on the floor he was plus-10. But it was something telling about Love that Spoelstra said after the game that really stood out.

He’s not happy about having to keep Love on the bench. He was so unhappy, he said, that it made him sick to have to do it.

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“He was fantastic with his leadership, his spirit, but also his talent,” Spoelstra said. “That veteran experience. With Tyler and Jimmy out, the equation changes. And this may be a game-by-game thing, but I just know in my gut that we need Kevin Love. I mentioned that it really made my stomach turn when I made another move because I know how important he is to our team in a lot of different ways.”

Miami Heat’s Kevin Love struggles to defend forwards

Certainly Kevin Love made an impact on the Heat in his short time in Miami. He was acquired last March after being released by the Cavaliers and was part of the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals, averaging 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 playoff games, including 18 starts . Importantly, he shot 37.5% from the 3-point line, giving the Heat the deep shooting distance they desperately needed.

He received a $3.1 million contract in the offseason to remain with the Heat. He didn’t respond to other offers from teams and the Heat left no doubt that they wanted to keep Love.

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But Spoelstra’s problem was that by playing Love in the power forward spot next to Bam Adebayo at center, Miami has two big men in the middle who aren’t very well equipped to guard smaller, more athletic power forwards. The 6-foot-1 Highsmith is hardly a prototypical power forward, but he can guard players like Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the many other athletic, high-scoring forwards in the Eastern Conference.

Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro out

However, without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, the Heat lacked 41.3 points worth of offense, so Spoelstra was less concerned about what the defense would look like. It would take some points to overcome Atlanta and star guard Trae Young.

That meant it was time for Kevin Love. The Miami Heat were led by the star performance of Adebayo, who scored 26 points and 17 rebounds and continues to put up MVP-like numbers. But they needed role players to get the victory, their fourth in a row.

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“We needed that type of spacing with a lot of firepower, the offense needed to be able to create something, and he does that really well,” Spoelstra said. “He is such a smart, experienced and talented player that he helps the entire unit function. So those 16 minutes were really important.”

Sean Deveney is a veteran sports reporter who covers the NBA and NFL for He has been writing for Heavy since 2019 and has more than two decades of NBA reporting experience, including 17 years as a senior NBA reporter for the Sporting News. Deveney is the author of seven nonfiction books, including “Fun City,” “Before Wrigley Were Wrigley,” and “Facing Michael Jordan.” More about Sean Deveney

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