MIAMI — Jimmy Butler enjoys making others uncomfortable.
It’s a trait that has become his trademark and applies to everything from overpriced coffee to loud country music to barking at others on the basketball court, be they teammates or opponents.
Now, after four years with the Miami Heat, his team has taken care of the 33-year-old veteran forward; The Heat’s ability to remain undisturbed amidst turmoil shaped the No. 8’s great playoff run.
This has been an antacid season for Miami; Basically all it does is play close games. In the 2022-23 regular season and playoffs, the Heat had a staggering 62 times in games that reached the “clutch” point when the lead was within five points in the final five minutes or in overtime. That’s the third highest value for a team in the last 25 years.
And it was also a turbulent playoff. Even with stunning final scores – they are now 10-3 after winning Game 2 to secure a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Boston Celtics – it was a hilarious ride that continues in Miami on Sunday for Game 3 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
“We just learned a lot about how to deal with a lot of different emotions,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“Every single game, it felt like it went on for weeks, every game ended in the last second, whether we shoot it or the other team shoots it. You develop some courage from that.”
Grit is a word for what Butler brings, but it doesn’t quite capture the whole. It’s more of a nervous calm. Usually when times are tough, he plays with a fire that never seems to be quenched.
The Heat were 11 points down in Friday’s second game in Boston with 11 minutes remaining. They were nine down with just over six minutes to go. At this point, Butler executed his three-point play by fouling Celtics forward Grant Williams and then faced him in a duel that was talk of rubbish.
“I love that gnarly version of Jimmy,” Spoelstra said after the game.
Gnarled yet undisturbed. Butler’s heartbeat didn’t seem to change, and neither did his team’s. After Butler’s basket, Miami beat Boston 24-9 to win 111-105.
They had done it again.
It’s who you are, it’s who Butler is.
“It makes me smile,” said Butler, who scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2. “When people talk to me, I’m like, ‘Okay, I know I’m a decent player when… ‘You want to talk to me from anyone you can talk to.'”
Miami is now at an incredible 6-2 this postseason when they are at least 10 points behind (including 2-0 this series).
The Heat have racked up 38 crucial wins this season. They have a total of 55 wins, including the postseason. They basically win narrowly, often from far behind, or they lose narrowly. And they put maximum pressure on their opponents.
“Being in that kind of situation more than 50 times in the regular season is just a great experience for us,” said Bam Adebayo, who had a brilliant second game with 22 points, 17 rebounds and five assists.
Meanwhile, the Celtics twice blew away a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of these playoffs, making them the most points in a postseason in 25 years.
The contrast in the well-being of the two teams during those awkward moments where Butler was the center of attention was clear.
As the Heat put together a string of crucial plays from Butler, Adebayo and Caleb Martin, who posted a career-high 25 point in Game 2, the Celtics melted away. Boston missed seven of its last eight shots and committed three brutal turnovers.
It was the Celtics’ fifth home loss of the playoffs. It was the Heat’s fifth away win of the season.
It’s not a trend you would have expected between these two teams, as they had an impressive regular season and one where just being in endless close games felt like an indictment.
But one path to this stage has paid off more than the other, thanks in large part to Miami’s star player — and his reassuring presence.
“This group has been together for a while, so there are some shared experiences,” Spoelstra said. “But certainly this year was really unique for all of us. There is something beautiful in combat. There is something beautiful in this rut and we are privileged to be able to live through a unique regular season as we have up until now.”