MIAMI — For much of Game 3 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, Jimmy Butler did something he wouldn’t normally do. It was a supporting role. He dribbled, threw a pass at his Heat teammate for an open shot, and only came close to scoring when it made a lot of sense not to take a chance.
Butler could have easily attempted a takeover against an upset Boston Celtics. But he didn’t give up and formed a heat with a confident image, empowering the unsung heroes as leaders. And just before halftime on Sunday, as if he had to remind someone of his presence, Butler dribbled the ball into the upcourt and headed straight for the Celtics’ recent nemesis Grant Williams. I jumped in and landed a jumper over the glass.
After scoring a spectacular foul on the shot, Butler fell on his back and stayed there longer than necessary — to point at Williams and make it clear that he had once again made himself look stupid.
“At any critical moment, Jimmy is going to put his will to the game,” said Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.
Miami’s 128-102 victory on Sunday was an end-to-end crushing defeat. It was another match, another clinic. The Heat, who are leading the series 3-0, are looking to go all-out at home on Tuesday, fueled by their increasingly secure championship dreams as the No. 8 seed.
Celtics’ Jaylen Brown called Game 3 loss ’embarrassing’. Boston coach Joe Mazura took the blame. “I just wasn’t ready to play them,” he said.
All things considered, Butler’s performance was modest, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists. However, for the first time in the series, he faced a trap. Both he and Bam Adebayo found teammates willing to help. Gabe Vincent finished with 29 points and Duncan Robinson finished with 22 points.
“Jimmy and Bam are fueling it,” Spoelstra said. “They’re just giving them confidence.”
It would be easy to describe Butler as a showman, someone who turns the courtroom into a stage. He’s not a dead man. he expresses emotions He interacts with his rival players. He sings like a monologue. And he seems to rejoice in the moment (plural) when a packed arena awaits his next act.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a theatrical element to his approach, especially in the playoffs. That was fully demonstrated in Game 2 on Friday, when Williams scored a 3-point shot midway through the fourth quarter to give Boston a close lead. Williams began a chin-up with Butler on his way back onto the court. On possession that followed, Butler scored for Williams and drew a foul. After that, Butler and Williams continued their conversation while bumping their foreheads—how can I describe it? — conversation.
“I like it,” said Butler. “I’m all for it. It gives me more input. It gives me the will to win more. It makes me smile. When people talk to me, I say, ‘ It’s like, OK, I know I’m a decent player, if you want to talk me out of all the people you can talk to. “
For Williams, talking to Butler was a miscalculation. The Heat finished the game with a 24-9 run. After winning, Butler said, “someone’s problema song by country artist Morgan Warren, Butler was playing it on his iPhone.
“This song is all the rage in the locker room right now,” said Butler, who describes himself as a team DJ. “So I get to choose what I listen to.”
But Butler’s peculiarity is that all his extracurricular activities, and all the attention he gives himself, intentionally or not, are means to an end. They motivate him and push him to perform. He’s not cocky for being cocky. He is cocky because being cocky wins.
“He loves to win,” he said Mike MarquisHe was his coach at Tyler Junior College, a two-year school about 160 miles southeast of Dallas. “Some people are so competitive. He really loves to win. He had none of that, he just loved to win.”
Butler, who had a difficult childhood, wasn’t recruited much after graduating from Tomball High School in Texas. He had a scholarship offer from Centenary, a small Louisiana college that moved to Division III, and a partial offer from Quinnipiac. But Tyler was where he felt wanted, Butler said.
Joe Fluth, a teammate at Tyler and then Marquette, recalled Butler’s uncanny ability to “manage his world” every time he played basketball. There were problems and challenges outside the gym as well. Inside Jim, many of the distractions of his daily life somehow ceased to exist.
“It’s very difficult,” Flus said. “It’s like being a sorceress.”
Marquis got another glimpse of his single-minded focus as the NBA ended the 2019-20 season inside a bubble at Walt Disney World with no fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. Butler grew up in such an isolated environment while others raved about, leading the No. 5-seeded Heat to the NBA Finals, where they lost six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Today, Butler is one of the league’s most famous players and a global seller of low-calorie beer. But he still finds a way to isolate himself from the world around him whenever he plays basketball, not unlike many of his teammates who were ignored until their success in Miami. The Heat have nine undrafted players on their roster, including Vincent and Robinson.
Butler went to junior college. He was a final pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. He wasn’t an All-Star this season either (in retrospect, maybe that was an oversight). Veteran guard Kyle Lowry said Butler was one of the most selfish stars he’d ever played with.
“He’s us, we’re him,” Spoelstra told reporters early in the postseason as a way to explain the synergy between Butler and the teams around him. “Sometimes psychopaths meet psychopaths.”
Combined, they’re one win away from the NBA Finals.