Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer4 minute read
BOSTON — Jimmy Butler still believes the Miami Heat will beat the Boston Celtics and advance to the NBA Finals despite two straight losses that have cut their series lead to 3-2.
Coming off a 110-97 loss in Game 5 on Thursday night inside a raucous TD Garden, the Heat have lost by a combined 30 points in their last two potential closing games. So why is Butler, who was calmly pacing outside the locker room eating popcorn after the game, still so confident in his team’s chances?
“Because the last two games are not who we are,” he said. “It just happened to be like that. We stopped playing defense in the middle because we didn’t make the shots we wanted to make. But that’s easily fixable. You just have to go out there and play harder off the jump. Like I always say, it’s going to be all smiles and we’re going to keep it very, very, very consistent, knowing we’re going to win the next game.”
For the first time in his torrid postseason career, Butler fell short of the sky-high bar he’d set for himself over the past month, scoring 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field as the Celtics dominated. from beginning to end.
“Our offense was a little bit disjointed,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We couldn’t start our offense, get the ball where we needed it in places where you could operate. If we can get Jimmy into his comfort zones and strengths more consistently, he’ll be fine.”
That was the sentiment throughout the Heat locker room that didn’t panic despite the fact that the No. 2-seeded Celtics are playing with a renewed sense of confidence on both ends of the floor.
“I think just give him a steady diet, and we know he’ll find it,” Heat big man Kevin Love said of Butler. “Just based on who he is, based on the numbers, we have no doubt that in Game 6 he’s going to come out and be Jimmy Butler.”
The calm Butler displayed after the Heat’s past two losses seemed to be permeating the entire locker room, where his teammates expressed confidence that they could still find their way, especially if guard Gabe Vincent, who missed Game 5 due to a sprain on the left. ankle, he can return in Game 6.
“Why would we lose trust?” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “When we started this journey, nobody believed in us. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the first round. Everybody thought we were going to be out in the second round. And now we’re here one game away. To We’ve always had confidence, and that’s not going to go away.”
Spoelstra did not buy into the idea that his team was going to be emotionally disappointed.
“Who cares about the mood?” Spoelstra said. “We have a twisted group. I think a lot of it is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in the conference finals. One game doesn’t lead to the next game. Based on all the experience we’ve had It doesn’t matter in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if you lose for whatever.
“We beat them by whatever in Game 3. It just doesn’t matter. It’s all about preparing collectively and putting together a great game. We’ll play much better on Saturday. That’s all we have to focus on right now.”
So will Game 6 on Saturday night in Miami feel like Game 7?
“No, it feels like Game 6,” Love said with a laugh. “But they’re a hungry team. And being down 3-0 and getting a win at our place and then getting a win here, you can tell they’re fighting for everything, fighting for everything, and now both teams are going to be feeling that. So we have to go out there and have a great performance and set the tone at home.”
And the key to doing that on Saturday night will be getting Butler moving quickly after being in relative control in Games 4 and 5.
“We have to play better,” Butler said. “Start the game better, on the starters, make it more difficult for them. They’re in a rhythm from the start of the game. But we’re always going to stay positive, knowing that we can and will win this series.” We will have to close it at home.”