His team was down by eight at halftime, and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra went into the locker room ready to deliver a big speech.
Turns out, one wasn’t needed.
Jimmy Butler decided to let his play do the talking.
Butler scored 27 of his 41 points in the second half, and a huge third quarter by the Heat carried them to a 118-107 win over the short-handed Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night.
“Jimmy Butler is an elite competitor,“ Spoelstra said. “There’s a lot of guys in this league that are playing basketball. He’s competing to win. That’s a totally different thing and he does that as well as anybody in this league.“
Tyler Herro scored 18 and Gabe Vincent added 17 for the Heat, who outscored Boston 39-14 in the third quarter. Butler had 17 alone in the third, outscoring the Celtics by himself over those 12 minutes.
Boston shot two for 15 in that third quarter.
“We won three quarters other than that, but obviously that one is going to stand out,“ Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We semi-bounced back in the fourth and started to play well again and matched their physicality, but 39-14 on 2-for-15 is tough to overcome.“
Along with the 41 points, the rest of Butler’s line: nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocked shots. Since the NBA started charting all those stat categories, only five other players — Anthony Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Harden (who did it twice) — had all those numbers in a game. None happened in a playoff game.
“I continued to play basketball the right way: Shoot the ball when I’m open, attack, hit the open guy,” Butler said. “Honestly, it was a team effort.”
Max Strus scored 11 and Bam Adebayo added 10 for Miami.
Jayson Tatum scored 29 for the Celtics, who were without starters Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols). Jaylen Brown added 24 for Boston, which got 18 apiece from Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard.
Game 2 is Thursday.
Boston led by 13 in the first half and took a 62-54 lead into halftime. A 22-2 run was how Miami started the second half, the run punctuated by steals that led to baskets on three consecutive possessions. Strus had one, the next two by Butler pushed the lead out to 76-64, and the Heat were off and running.
“It wasn’t anything different that they did,” Udoka said. “They just came out and imposed their will.”
The lead reached 96-76 when Herro was fouled on a three-point try and made all three free throws early in the fourth.
Boston had a run left; a 10-0 spurt cut the deficit in half, and a three-pointer from Tatum made it a nine-point game — outcome still very much in doubt — with 7:35 left.
But the Heat had a response. PJ Tucker answered Tatum’s three with one of his own. Brown then connected from deep to get Boston within single digits again, only to have that one answered by a three from Strus.
“Our energy shifted,“ Adebayo said. “That was the biggest key.“
Some of the plans that both sides had for Game 1 were thrown away about 3½ hours before game time, when the Celtics revealed that Smart and Horford wouldn’t be playing. Smart’s absence was somewhat expected because of a mid-foot sprain he suffered in Game 7 of the East semifinals against Milwaukee on Sunday.
Horford’s absence, however, was a surprise.
He entered the league’s health and safety protocols Tuesday afternoon, which ruled him out of Game 1 and quite possibly could keep him out for multiple games. Yet even without two starters, Boston had a chance.
“Other than the third quarter, I think we won every other quarter,“ Pritchard said. “Obviously, we try not to let that happen next time.“