After the Boston Celtics won Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals we had an editorial meeting here at CBS Sports, during which we started to outline content ideas around the Miami Heat’s eventual elimination. I didn’t get that. We just watched the Celtics come back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. Why were we writing the Heat off?
We weren’t alone. Draymond Green flat out said the Warriors were going to play the Celtics. Almost nobody holds the Heat in as high a regard as they deserve to be, but maybe that will change after what we watched on Friday night, when Jimmy Butler and company delivered one of the guttiest victories you’ll ever see, 111-103, to stave off elimination and force Game 7 on Sunday in Miami.
If you have other plans for Sunday night, cancel them.
That game is going to be a basketball war.
And if I’m in a basketball war, at this particular moment in time, there aren’t very many players, if any at all, that I’d rather have on my side than Butler, whose heroics defied description on Friday. Everyone said he was hurt. Said he couldn’t get to the basket the same way. I didn’t buy that either. I’m not saying his knee isn’t bothering him, but he just wasn’t aggressive enough in Games 4 and 5, over which he scored a total of 19 points.
That wasn’t a problem with the season on the line. Butler hung 47 points, his playoff career-high, on the Celtics in Game 6. Throw in his four steals, and Butler joins Michael Jordan (1988) as the only two players in history to post two 40-point, four-steal games in the same playoff series (Butler had 41 and four in Miami’s Game 1 victory).
Butler is also the only player in Heat history to post multiple 45-point playoff games (he had 45 in Game 2 against the Hawks. As long as we’re talking Heat history, Butler’s 47 also represents Miami’s second-highest postseason scoring output, one better than Dwyane Wade’s 46 and two shy of LeBron James’ 49.
This also seems like pretty good company.
The Heat made it a priority to play through Butler, who got the matchups he wanted and attacked. He did his jump stop, pivot and fade away in the paint. He finished through contact, he hit his pull-up mid-rangers. He also cashed four of his eight 3-pointers. Dare shots. Boston gave him space, and he didn’t hesitate.
The Heat were bound to get hot from 3, where they entered the game shooting a collective 29 percent for the series. The attention Butler drew definitely opened things up and the Heat rotated the ball well, but they also had a few prayers answered. Nothing you can do about this:
Max Strus hit three 3-pointers, and they all felt huge. Kyle Lowry, who looked like he was about to limp off into retirement in Game 5, was superb (if you can stand his acting, which I personally can’t), finishing with 18 points (4-of-9 from 3) and 10 assists in 36 tank-emptying minutes that I never would’ve guessed he had in him. He hit one 28-footer with the wrong foot forward.
To put these contributions into proper perspective, Lowry and Strus combined to shoot 1-for-28 over Games 4 and 5, including 1-of-19 from 3. Those are not typos. To answer the bell, like this, with the season on the line, is what the Heat are all about.
Butler is the best player, of course, and that doesn’t go for just the Heat. When he’s being aggressive to score, he’s the best player left in the playoffs. I really believe that. And Miami, particularly without Tyler Herro, needs Butler to be aggressive to score. They just don’t have enough offense otherwise. I probably should’ve been a Butler believer before this postseason based on what he did in the Bubble, but I just wasn’t. I knew he was really good. I hesitated to give him the great label. I’m an idiot.
But that said, Miami is a team. Some teams have one or two players charged with playing hard, doing the little things, but in Miami, everybody does those things and is in fact led by its best player. If you want to vomit every time you hear the phrase Heat Culture, you’re not alone, but it didn’t come from nowhere. This team, this franchise, is all guts. No way were the Heat going to lay down in Game 6. And now they get Game 7 at home. This is why they rallied to close the season and secure the No. 1 seed. Like I said, cancel your plans for Sunday. This one could get downright bloody.