Jimmy Butler put on a show for the ages with the Miami Heat facing elimination.
He may have to deliver another one on Sunday as a spot in the NBA Finals is on the line when the Heat host the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Butler singlehandedly forced the decisive matchup when he set a personal playoff high with 47 points and also contributed nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals during Friday’s 111-103 victory in Boston.
The stellar effort came after Butler had scored just 27 points over the previous three games. He missed the second half of Game 3 with right knee inflammation but he didn’t look the least bit hampered physically on Friday while reaching the 40-point mark for the second time in this series and the fourth time this postseason.
“They’ve got so much belief in me,” Butler said. “The players and coaches have so much belief in me that they just give me that confidence to go out there and play basketball the right way and just hoop.”
Butler connected on 16 of 29 field-goal attempts — including 4 of 8 from 3-point range — and sank all 11 free-throw attempts. He is averaging 24 points in the series.
“He’s such a humble basketball player,” Heat veteran guard Kyle Lowry said of Butler. “The work he does put in, I witness it. It’s incredible to have a guy like him next to me. I’ve played with some great players, and he’s one of the best players I’ve played with.
“To do it on this stage, Game 6, win or go home, do or die, I wouldn’t want to lace them up with any other people but this guy.”
Limiting Butler will be the Celtics’ top priority — and probably the second and third as well — in Sunday’s affair. The winner faces the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Boston held Butler to 7-of-32 shooting in the previous two games before faltering badly on the defensive end on Friday.
“He played like his back was (against) the wall and he had an amazing game, and we just had no answers for him,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said. “We will do a better job on Sunday.”
Boston was in the driver’s seat when it had a 3-2 series lead but the pressure has definitely ramped up after Friday’s loss.
The setback was the franchise’s fifth straight when it could clinch a spot in the NBA Finals. Additionally, the Celtics have lost in each of their past four visits to the Eastern Conference finals. They last reached the NBA Finals in 2010.
Four of Boston’s starters — Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Al Horford — were part of the team that let a 3-2 lead get away against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Eastern Conference finals.
None of them are interested in experiencing that feeling again.
“It’s no secret,” Tatum said. “It’s Game 7, trip to the NBA Finals, a lot on the line. A couple of us have been in this situation before, so we know what’s at stake. We know how much this means to everybody.”
Tatum scored 30 points in the Game 6 loss and is averaging 24.8 points in the series.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Saturday that he doesn’t think winning Game 7 on the road is an insurmountable task.
“You put yourself in this position, going up 3-2, to have two games to win one,” Udoka said. “So as much as you love to finish it on your home court, we’ve been up and down this series, and due to that, it’s where it is right now.”
The Heat are looking to reach the Finals for the second time in three seasons. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 Finals.
They might not know until close to game time whether they will have the services of Tyler Herro. The Sixth Man of the Year has missed the past three games due to a left groin injury.
Regardless, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t surprised this series will come down to a one-game battle.
“This is the way it should be with these two teams. It should have gone seven games,” Spoelstra said. “The margin for error on both sides is so small. There’s no two better words in pro sports than ‘Game 7.’
“I’m really thrilled our group gets an opportunity to compete in a Game 7 in front of our home crowd.”
–Field Level Media