Nick FriedelESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
BOSTON — Jimmy Butler’s belief in himself and his team is so strong that it’s evident in the Miami Heat’s locker room.
After the superstar swingman dominated another postseason game — scoring 35 points to go with seven assists, six steals and five rebounds in Wednesday night’s 123-116 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals — he agreed. Always believed this kind of run was possible for the eighth-seeded Heat, despite all the obstacles that appeared in their way throughout the season.
“I did the right thing,” said Butler. “We did the right thing. The best part about it is we still don’t care what any of you think, honestly. We don’t care if you pick us to win. We don’t. We never will. We know the group of guys in this locker room, we know that coach. [Erik Spoelstra] Puts a lot of faith and trust in each of us. Coach Pat [Riley] as well as
“So our circle is small, but that circle is very loving to each other. We all instill constant confidence. We go out and play basketball the right way, knowing we’ve always got a chance.”
The Heat continue to play their best basketball in the midst of a dream run through the playoffs, something they believed was possible. After winning against the Chicago Bulls in the final Eastern Conference play-in game last month, the Heat are on a five-game sweep of No. 1 seed, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the No. 6 seed. Also beat the 5th ranked New York Knicks. Now they have a 1-0 lead over the Celtics — the team that beat them last year to reach the NBA Finals.
The Heat, who have won Game 1 in each of their first three series in the 2023 postseason, have thrived in an underdog role — underscored by their poor play over the past month after the regular season.
“I would say from the beginning everyone counted us out as making that chip,” Heat big man Bam Adebayo said. “But going through the adversity, the ups and downs, the games we should have won but didn’t put us in this position throughout the season.
“Right now, like you said, I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the league because adversity made it. We all looked in each other’s faces and said, ‘This is the second play-in game, this is our last game. Run. This is it. Get out there, man.’ I felt like everyone bought into that desire. I feel like we were ready to win.”
Nobody in the league wants more hits right now than Butler. After the Heat trailed by nine at halftime on Wednesday, Butler helped engineer a third-quarter rally during which Miami outscored Boston 46-25, shooting 17-of-26 from the field.
“You can’t count it out,” Spoelstra said, adding that Butler now carries the rest of the Heat’s roster. “There’s no analysis of it. The sense of consistency in the locker room. Even when you’re down nine in the first half … there’s a settling effect that’s immeasurable.
“Well, we’re within striking distance. We’ll settle into our game, and Jimmy’s going to make a bunch of plays, Pam’s going to make a bunch of plays, everybody’s going to be OK, everybody’s going to fit into their roles. But that’s what great players do.
Heat guard Gabe Vincent spoke for many in the locker room while describing what it was like to play with Butler.
“When Jimmy plays like that, we feel like we can play with anybody and beat anybody,” he said. “We’ve got a couple guys in this locker room, but Jimmy is one of a kind.”
The scary part for the rest of the league is that Butler brushed off the idea that this was the highest level his game had been in years.
“I don’t think so,” Butler said. “If you get the chance, my teammates, my coaches, coach Pat, if I have the belief that I have the right, and now with Pam, I feel like I can do anything in life. It’s possible.
“I’m playing at an incredible level because they let me do that. They don’t put limits on my game. They trust me on the ball, on the defensive end. I think that’s what any basketball player wants. Anyone in life wants to be loved, to be loved, to be appreciated, and you Let’s go there and browse.”
Butler’s teammates and coaches admire him because they know how well he makes the team every night.
“It’s fun,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s one of the best players in the world for a reason. It’s a joy to watch. For a guy who wants it so bad and works so hard at his craft, it’s important to enjoy his success. He gives us everything. The confidence to be successful, aggressive and determined. That’s what makes him special. does, it’s not about him. He’s about our team and our team and everybody else.”