Jimmy Butler’s belief helps fuel Heat’s G1 return against Celtics

Nick FriedelESPN WriterMay 18, 2023, 1:51 a.m. ET4 minute read

BOSTON — Jimmy Butler’s confidence in himself and his team is so strong, it’s palpable in the Miami Heat locker room.

After the superstar swingman dominated another postseason game – scoring 35 points while racking up 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 acknowledged that he always believed this kind of run was possible for the eighth seed, despite all the obstacles that stood in their way throughout the season .

“It’s true that I did,” Butler said. “Of course we did. And 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 care. We never did. We never will. We know the group of guys we have in this locker room. We know that coach (Erik Spoelstra) puts so much trust and faith in all of us. Coach Pat (Riley) too.

“So our circle is small, but the circle has so much love for each other. We instill constant confidence in everyone. We go out there and we hoop and we play good basketball. way, knowing that we always have a chance.”

The Heat continue to play their best basketball amid a dream run through the playoffs that only they believed possible. After picking up a win over the Chicago Bulls in the final Eastern Conference playoff last month, the Heat took out the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games and the top-seeded New York Knicks No. 5, in six. They now have a 1-0 lead over the Celtics, the team that beat them last year to advance to the NBA Finals.

The Heat, who have won Game 1 of each of their first three series in the 2023 playoffs, are thriving in an underdog role – a sentiment underscored by their scorching play over the past month after a toothy regular season of saw.

“I would say everybody counted us out from the start, that’s kind of what builds this chip,” Heat big man Bam Adebayo said. “But also the adversity we’ve been through all season, the ups and downs, the games we should have won but didn’t win. Going to the locker room and trying to figure it out, rewriting everything we have done wrong, and going through that put us in this position.

“Now I feel like we’re, like you said, one of the best teams in the league, because adversity has built this. We all looked each other in the face and said, this is the second play-in game, this is our last From there, man, I just felt like everyone just bought into that will I feel like we just wanted to win.”

Nobody wants more league wins right now than Butler. After the Heat fell nine at halftime on Wednesday, Butler helped stage a third-quarter rally in which Miami beat Boston 46-25, shooting 17-26 from the field.

“You can’t quantify it,” Spoelstra said of the belief Butler brings to the rest of the Heat’s roster right now. “There’s no analysis to it. Just the feeling of stability in the dressing room. Even when you’re nine in the first half… there’s just a settling effect that’s impossible to quantify.

“Like, okay, we’re within striking distance. Let’s just settle into our game, and Jimmy will make a bunch of plays, Bam will make a bunch of plays and everyone will be fine and everyone will fit in in his role. But that’s what great players do.”

Heat keeper Gabe Vincent spoke for a lot in the locker room while describing what it’s like to play under Butler right now.

“When Jimmy plays like that, we feel like we can play anybody, beat anybody,” he said. “We have a few guys in this locker room like that, but Jimmy is one of a kind.”

The scary part for the rest of the league is that Butler has brushed off the idea that this is the highest level his game has been at in years.

“I don’t think so,” Butler said. “I really feel like with anything in life, if you get the chance and you have the belief that my teammates, my coaches, coach Pat, the property has in me to kind of lead the charge, with Bam right now, anything is possible.

“I play at an incredible level because they allow me to do that. They don’t put limits on my game. They trust me with the ball, defensively. I think that’s what every basketball player wants . That’s what everybody wants out of life, it’s just to be wanted, to be appreciated and to just let yourself go out there and rock.”

Butler’s teammates and coaches appreciate him because they know how much he improves the group 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 just a joy to watch him. For a guy who wants him so badly and works so hard at his job, it’s important to enjoy his success. He gives us all the confidence to succeed and be aggressive and assertive. That’s what makes him special, that it’s not all about him. He’s about our band and our team and everyone others.

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