Miami Heat Force Game 7 Against Boston Celtics Behind Jimmy Butler

BOSTON — In a playoff series that long ago lost any semblance of order or predictability, the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler emerged Friday night as a rare source of stability, and perhaps the only one.

He rose over flat-footed defenders for 3-pointers. He negotiated rush hour traffic for layups. He drew fouls and whipped passes at teammates, leaving the Celtics and their fans in a state of despair.

When so much else felt uncertain, Butler was a safe bet. It was the common feeling of everyone in the building, for better or for worse. As he kept the basketball outside the 3-point line late in the fourth quarter and took half a shot to survey the landscape ahead, he carried a certain inevitability: was there any doubt about what would happen next?

The Celtics, celebrated for their defense, made it easy for him. You mismanaged the assignment and left Butler alone a clear path to the hoop, and he pounced, driving to a layup and absorbing the contact for good measure. It was a draw-breaking draw, along with the Celtics’ determination.

“His competitive spirit is as high as anyone who’s played this game,” said Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra.

By leading the Heat to a 111-103 win over the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Butler ensured the series would be pushed to its absolute limit with Game 7 taking place Sunday night in Miami.

Butler accumulated 47 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists while shooting 16 of 29 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He did so with a bad right knee after two of the toughest games of his career. He said he was cheered up by a call from former heat guard Dwyane Wade before the game.

“D-Wade never hits me until his voice is really, really needed,” Butler said. “And it was.”

Butler also had a one-sided chat with PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris, two of his teammates, before the game. Tucker and Morris had a request for Butler: “Yo, we need 50.”

“He looked at us, didn’t say a word,” Tucker recalled. “He just nodded his head and carried on. I thought, oh yeah, he’s about to play. He’s locked up.”

Spoelstra called “Game 7” the two best words in pro sports, and he wouldn’t get an argument from the Golden State Warriors, who are awaiting the winner in the NBA Finals in San Francisco starting Thursday. While Boston and Miami continue to bludgeon each other, it took Golden State just five games to eliminate the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.

“Rest, ice, massage — all that good stuff,” Butler said when asked how he would take care of his knee ahead of Game 7. “Every day the same.”

The Heat pulled off two recently discouraging performances. They had lost Game 4 by 20 while shooting 33.3 percent from the field. They had lost Game 5 by 13 points while scoring 31.9 percent — no less at home, where their fans were shuffling out of the arena wondering if they’d see the team again this season. After all, Butler had shot a total of 7 of 32 in those two duds while struggling with his injured knee.

Immediately after Game 5, with the Heat poised for elimination, Spoelstra did something interesting at his press conference: he channeled his inner Mister Rogers.

“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “They do. If you want to break through and snag a ticket to the finals, you’ve got to do some ridiculously hard stuff.”

He added: “We’re still alive. We have the opportunity to play in front of a great audience and the opportunity to create a memory that you will remember for a long time. That’s all we’re thinking about right now.”

Spoelstra would know, having coached the Heat to two titles and five Finals appearances. In his 14th season, he understands the playoffs and the stakes and the pressure and the opportunities.

If Spoelstra delivered the same message of opportunity to his players before Game 6, Butler must have absorbed every word of it before using it as fuel against the Celtics.

“His aggression just opens everything up to everyone else,” Tucker said.

In the first quarter alone, Butler shot 6 of 10 off the field and made both of his 3-point attempts while amassing 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. As a team, the Heat grabbed five 3-pointers in the first quarter, which was particularly impressive considering they had 7-of-45 from 3-point range in Game 5.

“I think we played with a little more confidence,” said Kyle Lowry, who had 18 points and 10 assists in the win. “We played with some momentum tonight and it felt good to do it.”

While Butler’s late-game layup finally gave Miami the lead, he sealed the victory with less than a minute remaining as he made a spinning turnaround jump shot from 20 feet with the shot clock running out.

“It’s a different era,” he said. “This is a different team”

And Butler, still on the hunt for his first championship, seems determined to make a name for himself. At his press conference, he shared the podium with Lowry, who put on a quizzical expression as Butler said he played a “decent” game. Lowry was asked to elaborate on Butler’s game.

“It’s incredible,” said Lowry, adding an expletive to his assessment. “My mistake. Don’t punish me, NBA. That was a mistake, I promise.”

It was one of the only mistakes the Heat made all night.

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