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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Butler Powers Heat to Game Six Win in Boston

Have I mentioned once or many times that playoff momentum is a myth? The Miami Heat looked dead after losing game five of the Eastern Conference Finals at home to the Boston Celtics--and many commentators spent most of Thursday reciting (premature) eulogies for the Heat--but Jimmy Butler's historic game six performance means that the Heat are now one home win away from making their second NBA Finals appearance in the past three seasons. 

Butler scored 47 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished for eight assists, and swiped four steals while playing 46 minutes as his Heat defeated the Celtics 111-103. Butler shot 16-29 from the field (including 4-8 from three point range), he made all 11 of his free throw attempts, and he committed just one turnover. Per the ESPN telecast, he is the only player other than Michael Jordan to have two games with at least 40 points and at least four steals in the same playoff series. Butler not only set a franchise record for most points scored in an elimination game, but his output ranks seventh in NBA history in an elimination game. Elgin Baylor holds the record (61), Wilt Chamberlain scored more than 50 points in three elimination games, and both Sleepy Floyd and Jamal Murray had exactly 50 points in an elimination game. 

Another recurring theme that I have mentioned is that the NBA is often described as a fourth quarter league but that the NBA is in fact a first quarter league in the sense that matchups and tendencies from early in the game tend to foreshadow the final outcome. In the first quarter of game six, Butler scored 14 points on 6-10 field goal shooting while grabbing five rebounds and passing for four assists. He scored or assisted on 24 of Miami's 29 first quarter points as the Heat jumped out to a 10 point lead and were still on top by seven after the first 12 minutes. Butler established his dominance early in the game, and his dominance proved to be the main story.

Butler received help from Miami's recently maligned starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Max Strus. Lowry scored 18 points and dished a game-high 10 assists before fouling out. He shot poorly from the field (5-14) but he gave the Heat a much needed lift. Strus added 13 points on 5-12 field goal shooting before he fouled out. Those totals and percentages may not seem impressive, but Lowry and Strus were the team's second and third leading scorers in a must-win road playoff game. P.J. Tucker contributed 11 points, five rebounds, and his usual bulldog-style defense.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points on 9-12 field goal shooting. He had nine rebounds and four assists, but he also coughed up seven turnovers. The Heat forced him toward help defenders, and deftly swiped the ball away when he tried his spin move. It may seem paradoxical to say, but it is equally true that Tatum played very well in some respects and yet not well enough overall. 

Derrick White added 22 points and five assists off of the bench. In the past few games, he has emerged as a key weapon for the Celtics. Jaylen Brown had 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Marcus Smart scored 14 points, but he shot just 4-15 from the field, and the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year failed to contain Butler--not that it is easy to do so or that Butler's big performance is solely his fault.

The Heat led for most of the game, but unlike the other games in this series the margin never reached blowout proportions. The Celtics hung around, and after White's three pointer gave them a 97-94 lead with 4:43 remaining in the fourth quarter it would have been reasonable to think that the home team had weathered the storm before arriving safely to port--but the Heat outscored the Celtics 16-6 down the stretch, with Butler (seven points) and Lowry (five points) doing most of the late damage. Butler scored 17 fourth quarter points on 6-9 field goal shooting. His 27 total points in the past three games are a distant memory now--the Celtics cannot afford to think about the past, because their future holds a do or die game seven on the road against a team that does not give up and does not pay attention to doubters.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:23 AM



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