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The Boston Celtics are going to take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, but Jimmy Butler made them work until the last buzzer.
And after all he endured through Boston in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics certainly held their breath when he stopped for three in a 98-96 game with 16.6 seconds left.
Steve Jones Jr. †stevejones20
It felt like Tatum was waiting for a double that never came. Miami gets the stop. Jimmy Butler went for it. pic.twitter.com/E6kxaETlGQ
You may have felt the collective sigh of relief the Celtics fans breathed after Butler came up short. You certainly felt the tension that led to that shot.
Just over three minutes earlier, Boston was 13 ahead. The match felt finished, or at least close. But the Miami Heat wouldn’t stop on their home floor. And an 11–0 run gave Jimmy his chance.
It was 98-85 before Kyle Lowry hit a mid-range jumper. A Max Strus dunk then cut the lead to single digits. With just over a minute to go, Victor Oladipo grabbed the edge and narrowed the lead to seven. Then Lowry scored again. And finally, Strus hit a dribble-pull-up three that went to the right, putting Miami in one possession of the final.
Steve Jones Jr. †stevejones20
All 11 points in the run were scored by Heat players not named Butler. But make no mistake – Miami would never have had the chance without him.
You leave it all on the floor, and then there’s what Butler did for Miami.
After one of the best individual Heat playoffs of always in Game 6 — when he went for 47 points, nine boards, eight assists, and four steals in 46 minutes — Butler played all 48 in Game 7. He had 35 points and nine rebounds, but the stat line isn’t starting to do him justice .
For longer stretches of the last two games (actually, this entire playoff run), Miami’s offense seemed to depend entirely on Butler. When everyone stopped, he almost always had a way (and the will) to get to the bucket, draw a foul, or hit a pull-up jumper.
In 17 playoff games, he averaged 27.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.4 threes. He leads the NBA in playoff wins over substitute player, and it’s not particularly close.
Butler carried the Heat to this point.
But this is 2022, when social media comments will feel as connected to the NBA as traditional newspaper game recaps used to be.
Even after everything Butler did during the postseason, especially in Games 6 and 7 of this series, many people couldn’t help but wonder if he had made the right decision.
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann shared a video of a strikingly similar situation that Butler found himself in 2019 as a Philadelphia 76er:
John Schuhmann †johnschuhmann
Others were, uh, less tactful:
Jimmy butler 18 whole seconds behind with 2 without a shot clock pic.twitter.com/51jBJPHzGR
Were there other options for Butler? Absolute.
Dakhil and Schuhmann nailed one. Miami was in a semi-transition, with only Al Horford and Jaylen Brown in position to deter Butler. He may have been able to get around Horford. If Brown came to help, Oladipo might have been open to a kick-out. In that situation, perhaps both Celtics were overzealous enough to commit a foul. Scoring with the clock stopped would have been huge for the Heat.
But there are many “may haves” and plenty of reasons why Boston is going to the final. The team defense can be the most important among them.
After playing 47 minutes and 43 seconds, there is no guarantee that Butler had the outburst or angle he wanted at Horford. Since January 1, few (if any) players had answers against this unit. Butler had enough for the last two games. He had shown that he was able to read, dissect and attack these defenses.
Had he taken the photo, the internet would have been loud and unanimous in celebrating the decision.
Butler was the best player on the floor this series, and he did more than enough to earn the trust of his team, his coach and an entire fan base.
On momentum and with a chance to take the lead, he fired his shot. And he spent the entire postseason earning the right to do that.