Amid all the adversity, Jimmy Butler never wavered even when pretty much everyone outside of the Miami Heat organization did.
Butler and the Heat were initially up 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but that quickly disappeared after the Boston Celtics won three straight games. Miami seemed to have Game 6 in the bag, but a Derrick White put-back with less than a second left forced Game 7.
The Heat were obviously shocked and dejected, but Butler was not fazed. There was still a game at hand and to be honest, it was anyone’s game at that point. Even with the possibility of being the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead, the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals MVP could only smile.
When your leader has that mindset, you might as well run through walls and join him in the trenches. Butler set the tone when Game 6 ended and even in a hostile environment like Boston, Miami was undeterred so long as they followed their leader.
While not known as a deadeye 3-point shooter, Butler knocked down three 3-pointers to keep the Heat’s distance over the Celtics. For the game, Miami as a team made half of their 28 3-point attempts. Butler may have gotten his offense going, but he still kept the ball moving and found the likes of Caleb Martin and Max Strus for open shots. The Heat? As a squad they dished out 26 assists and had seven players score at least seven points.
On defense, Butler was a pest, finishing with three steals after bothering a hobbled Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, whose eight turnovers came at the hands of Butler and company. Miami forced 15 turnovers but more importantly, they gave Boston fits on offense (39 percent on 82 shot attempts).
The numbers, especially from Game 7, only tell part of the story since Butler’s best traits are the intangibles. When teams look for franchise players, they look for scorers, do-it-all players, or unicorns. But for the Heat, Butler has been the epitome of Heat culture. Hard work, doing things the right and not necessarily the flashy way, and the other things that happen behind closed doors are where Butler has done his best work. The on-court production followed suit.
The results over the last few seasons also speak for themselves, especially as Butler has led Miami to their second NBA Finals appearance in three years, third Eastern Conference Finals in four seasons, and from the play-in tournament all the way to this year’s NBA Finals as an eighth seed. Winning games has a lot to do with that, but the respect Butler has for his teammates is pretty much the driving force to this solid run they’re on.
The 2023 NBA Finals will see the Heat face the vaunted Denver Nuggets, who are not only undefeated at home, but have also had more than a week to rest and scout them. Butler and Miami haven’t really faced a roster of this caliber, with an uber-talented player in Nikola Jokic and a bevy of perimeter players led by Jamal Murray. Butler and the Heat will also be matched up against a host of perimeter defenders who will try to match their energy. With the way Miami have beaten the odds thus far, though, it should not be a surprise if this becomes a physical and closely-fought series. I mean who can forget when sparks flew between both squads.
Basketball is a team sport, but the star-driven nature of the NBA gives credence to the journeys of the players themselves. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a contest between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat on paper, but in the end, Jimmy Butler took control of the narrative and brought the nightmare to the TD Garden. Now that he followed through on his prediction last season, Butler is much closer to fulfilling his championship aspirations.