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Jimmy Butler Just Had One of the Greatest Miami Heat Playoff Games Ever

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 28, 2022

BOSTON, MA - MAY 27: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat dribbles the ball during Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on May 27, 2022 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Pinned in the deep right corner with 2.2 seconds left on the shot clock, blanketed by Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and well beyond the point of exhaustion after 45 minutes of cardiovascular torture, Jimmy Butler had no business hitting the biggest shot of the 2022 NBA postseason.

Then again, Butler's epic performance in Miami's 111-103 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday was basically defiance incarnate. 

So of course he made it.

Miami HEAT @MiamiHEAT

Gotta see the replay to believe it https://t.co/R45k1F3HnG

Butler, hobbled for much of the Eastern Conference Finals by a bad right knee, staved off elimination with 47 points in 46 maximum-intensity minutes. Simply keeping the Heat alive on the road would have been enough to earn Butler's game heroic status. But to do it against the league's best defense, on the heels of some of the most uncharacteristically poor postseason efforts of his career, well... "heroic" doesn't quite cover it.

Let's call it legendary.

Teammate Kyle Lowry, who shook off his own rough stretch of games to put up 18 points and 10 assists, had his own colorful characterization. Earmuffs for the kids.

CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter @cjzero

Kyle Lowry gets asked about Jimmy's game, says it was "f***ing incredible" then begs the NBA not to fine him https://t.co/6s9sFuAnvw

Celtics fans might spend the 48 hours ahead of Game 7 using more profanity than that, as Butler's night was eerily familiar.

Zach Kram @zachkram

2012 ECF, Miami down 3-2 in Boston: LeBron James scores 45 points in 45 minutes to stay alive 2022 ECF, Miami down 3-2 in Boston: Jimmy Butler scores 47 points in 46 minutes to stay alive

When LeBron James racked up 45 points in a Game 6 road win over Boston 10 years ago, it was essentially a king-making performance. James and the Heat went on to win Game 7 in Miami and secure the first of two straight titles.

Boston's last championship team disbanded shortly after that.

That game stood out as one of the most significant in James' career and certainly one of the most pivotal in Heat franchise history. But the Celtics team whose heart James ripped out a decade ago was a faded version of past greatness, led by the sunsetting versions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. James and the juggernaut Heat shouldn't have even been in a position to face elimination back then.

Butler and the battered Heat are squaring off against something different entirely. These Celtics were unquestionably the best team in the league for the final three months of the season, and they're far healthier than Miami. There's a reason Boston came into Friday's tilt as massive favorites. All signs pointed to the Celtics closing things out until Butler looked at the odds and laughed.

Turns out that's something he and the Heat do a lot.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The Heat closed as 8.5-point underdogs @CaesarsSports, the 5th time this season Miami was an underdog of 8+ points. They're 4-1 in those 5 games and have covered the spread in all 5. https://t.co/YE4TWLdEWy

Zooming out from the specific Heat-Celtics rivalry, what Butler accomplished is exceedingly rare. He didn't just raise the bar for elimination-avoiding performances in franchise history. He nearly set a new one for the NBA as a whole.

Tim Reynolds @ByTimReynolds

to make it official ... Most points in a playoff win, facing elimination, on road: 50: Wilt Chamberlain, PHL at BOS, 1960 47: Jimmy Butler, MIA at BOS, 2022 46: Jayson Tatum, BOS at MIL, 2022 45: LeBron James, MIA at BOS, 2012 45: Kawhi Leonard, LAC at DAL, 2021

And again, the specific circumstances making Butler's night so improbable can't be ignored. He entered Game 6 having scored 27 points on 10-of-40 shooting in Miami's previous three games. His knee kept him out of the entire second half in Game 3, and he barely glanced at the basket during hobbled, passive outings in Games 4 and 5.

For the better part of a painful week, he looked nothing like himself. But the real Jimmy Butler emerged when Miami needed him, and it was so abrupt and unexpected that observers turned to wild speculation in a search for answers.

Rob Perez @WorldWideWob

NBA going to test an entire case of Big Face Coffee at halftime.

There might be a better explanation.

Alexis Morgan @alexismorgan

Udonis Haslem went up to the broadcasting team and told them to tell Draymond Green “Thank you for the inspiration” 😭 https://t.co/LLtpQyTIZA

Perhaps Butler and the Heat feed on defiance itself. Maybe long odds sustain them. And maybe direct slights like, say, a potential Finals opponent predicting the Celtics would advance, had the effect of supercharging the Heat's natural inclination to lash out at doubt.

By that logic, the Celtics could take solace in the fact that Miami may well be favored to win Game 7 at home. Maybe the Heat are less dangerous when they're expected to succeed. That's a small, unlikely source of hope. But it's something.

Then again, it seems reasonable to doubt Butler can repeat a performance like the one he turned in Friday. That might be all he and the Heat need to channel their best, most resistant selves.

After the 13-point loss in Game 4 on Wednesday that shoved Miami to the brink of elimination, head coach Erik Spoelstra said: "If you want to break through and punch a ticket to the Finals, you're going to have to do some ridiculously tough stuff."

Butler didn't stop at "ridiculously tough" on Friday. What he did felt closer to impossible.

Dare you to doubt he can do it again.

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