NBA: Miami's Butler for 'moments of truth'

AFP , Wednesday 31 May 2023

Desperate. Urgent. Maniacal. Psychotic. Incredible. Unique. World class.

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat dribbles against Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 29, 2023. AFP


Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has used an array of adjectives to describe Jimmy Butler over the course of his team's remarkable postseason campaign.

On Monday, Spoelstra was once again plundering his vocabulary after Butler led Miami's scoring in a do-or-die game seven blowout of the Boston Celtics to seal a place in the NBA Finals.

It was the latest in a lengthening list of towering performances from Butler, the 33-year-old forward who has invariably been the cornerstone of Miami's odyssey through the playoffs.

In the first round, Butler scored 56 points and 42 points in games four and five as Miami romped to a 4-1 series victory against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

In the conference semi-finals, Butler averaged 24.6 points per game in a 4-2 series win over the Knicks, and then followed that up with an average 24.7 points per game in the 4-3 series win over Boston.

But as Spoelstra emphasises, Butler's influence on Miami's fortunes goes far deeper than raw on-court statistics.

"You have to have a guy that you can hold on to, particularly in those moments of truth," Spoelstra said of Butler.

"There's no way to quantify the confidence that (Jimmy) can instill in everybody.

"The confidence level that he can create for everybody on the roster is incredible. I've almost never seen anything like it.

"He's special because he does it on both ends of the court. He can play 48 if you need him to, and then he just has a way, also, that he has a hard edge.

"He's gnarly, but he knows how to have a soft touch to give somebody some confidence at the right time. That's the special gift that he has."

In a sense Monday's game-seven victory in Boston was tailor-made for Butler.

Boston had clawed their way back from a 3-0 series deficit to level at 3-3, leaving them with the chance to close out a historic series win in front of their home fans.

Indomitable spirit

But Butler is rarely more comfortable when the odds and prevailing logic are against him and his teammates. Butler and Miami have repeatedly demonstrated a fearlessness in adversity that ought to give the Denver Nuggets plenty of food for thought heading into Thursday's game one.

"We're a resilient group. We stick together through everything," Butler said earlier in the playoffs.

"We just play hard. We know what we're capable of. We don't listen to the outside noise. We're going to do what we do, learn from our mistakes and get better."

Speaking in the wake of Miami's first round upset of Milwaukee, Spoelstra said Butler was the embodiment of the Heat's dogged approach.

"He is us and we are him," Spoelstra said. "A lot of guys play the game of basketball in this league. He competes to win. And that's a different language.

"He's desperate, and urgent, and maniacal, and sometimes psychotic, about the will to win. He'll make everybody in the building feel it."

Butler's indomitable spirit has been a recurring theme of his NBA career and, indeed, his life.

A difficult childhood in Texas saw him endure homelessness as a teenager before he was eventually drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2011.

He remained in Chicago until 2017 and then had stints in Minnesota and Philadelphia before landing in Miami in 2019, leading the Heat to the NBA Finals in his pandemic-disrupted first season, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Orlando bubble.

One of the enduring images of that finals series was after game five, Butler doubled up on the side of the court near the end of a game in which he played almost the entire 48 minutes, finishing with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a 111-108 win.

"Every young player coming into this league should study footage of Jimmy Butler," Spoelstra said at the time. "His will to win is remarkable."

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