Three years after the final lost against the Lakers, Jimmy Butler has a second chance to finally be crowned NBA champion with the Miami Heat, of which he asserts himself even more today as an exceptional leader, by dint of exploits. but also exemplary, during these playoffs.
In 2020, in Orlando's anti-Covid bubble, his performance had the effect of a revelation. Not for his talent, already recognized despite his inconclusive and often stormy passages in Chicago, Minnesota or Philadelphia, but for his ability to guide a group, he who was long stamped locker room poison. For his will to fight too, until exhaustion, as in match N.5 where his monumental triple-double (40 pts, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) offered a reprieve to Miami, which had finally given in to the match following.
Butler has improved even further with age: at 33, he remains the star of the team, with the attributes of a brave captain, the one who federates, gives confidence and ensures the good atmosphere. Fond of music, of country, especially in the good Texan of origin that he is, he is the DJ of the Heat in the locker room, but also and above all its conductor on the floor, the one who sets the tone, who elevates the note and everyone follows in chorus. Because in Miami, when Jimmy says, Jimmy does.
The qualification for the final, recorded Monday evening after the 7th match won in Boston, is the most striking illustration of this, since Butler, vindictive and decisive with 28 points, kept his promise made a year earlier, just after the elimination at the same stage against those same Celtics. “Next year, he announced, we will be in exactly the same position and, this time, we will finish the job.”
In this series, Butler has experienced electric moments, such as this head to head with Grant Williams whose provocation had no other effect than his thunderous awakening in match N.2, and other more difficult, the incessant catches two making its effectiveness drop (24.7 pts on average, 42% success rate). But neither doubt nor fear invaded him when the Celtics recovered from 3-0 to 3-3, very close to an unprecedented reversal that many promised them and which did not take place. “You have to have a guy you can hang on to, especially in the moments of truth. I've said it before: there's no way to quantify the confidence he can instill in everyone on the team. I've never seen anything like that,” said his trainer Erik Spoelstra.
In his wake, his teammates turned into warriors. Butler galvanizes them as he releases them, and they flourish alongside him, like Caleb Martin, playing the trigger at the expense of the Celtics, him the member of the undrafted quartet also composed of Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson and Max Strus.
“I believe in this group so much. It is thanks to them that we are here. I know how good a team we are”, paid tribute to them Butler, who had nevertheless split a solo masterclass, in the first round of the playoffs, to knock out the Bucks of Giannis Antetokounmpo, with points at 56 and 42 points in matches N.4 and N.5, and a crazy address at almost 60% success in the series. Spoelstra had not failed to recall how much he is the soul of the Heat. “He is us and we are him. A lot of people play basketball in this league, he fights to win. It's a different language. He has the energy of despair, he is in a hurry, manic and sometimes psychotic in his will to win. And he makes everyone feel it.”
Sometimes a little too hard, when last season, one evening in February when nothing was going well, a fight was narrowly avoided between the two men, at the edge of the field. The altercation did not cause any break, quite the contrary. “Jimmy never had to apologize. I don't want him to apologize for who he is and how he approaches competition. It's intense. It's not for everyone, and we're not for everyone. That's why we think it's like an amazing marriage,” Spoelstra said. All they need is a ring to celebrate it with dignity.