The 2023 NBA Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics tipped off May 17, and for the Heat, the best-of-seven bout began exactly as the club’s previous two rounds did — with a surprising win.
Once again, it was Jimmy Butler who set the tone for the eighth-seeded Heat, dropping a game-high 35 points and adding seven assists, six steals and five rebounds. After the contest, Spoelstra raved about the impact Butler has on games, as well as his teammates, when he’s in that zone.
“You can’t quantify it. There’s no analytic to it. Just the feeling of stability in the locker room,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “There’s just a settling effect that is impossible to quantify.”
After having fallen behind by double digits heading into halftime, Spoelstra‘s squad utilized a 46-point explosion in the third quarter to wrest control of the contest from the Celtics, then hung on in the final frame for a 123-116 win to take a 1-0 series lead.
Heat Star Jimmy Butler’s Ball-Hawking Exploits During Game 1 Were Next Level
While Butler’s gaudy box score and the empowering effect that Spoelstra referenced were further evidence for the baller’s increasingly obvious superstar case, one could argue that the thing that stood out the most about his individual effort during Game 1 may have been his exploits on the defensive end.
In particular, Butler’s six steals — three of which came during the fourth quarter and played a part in Miami’s ability to finish the job — loomed large. Not only that but they represented a rare feat in the NBA’s playoff annals as well.
There had only been 20 instances of a player logging six or more steals in a conference finals game entering Game 1. The last player to do so was Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2017 against the San Antonio Spurs.
Meanwhile, only Hall of Famer Rick Barry and eight-time All-Star Paul George exceeded Butler’s point total on the other end amid their ball-hawking efforts.
Said Spoelstra of Butler’s defensive contributions during Game 1: “As one of the premier — if not the premier — two-way basketball players in this Association, that’s what we needed. We needed him to make some plays defensively. We needed him to also just be ball containment defensively. On the ball, off the ball — all that stuff.”
Kyle Lowry Adds His Own Two Cents on Butler’s Playoff Brilliance
As relayed by the NBA’s official Twitter account, Heat point guard Kyle Lowry was similarly taken by Butler’s two-way domination. For him, Miami’s cornerstone brings out a level of enjoyment in the game itself with his talents, even as the stakes are high.
“It’s fun,” Lowry declared. “Bam [Adebayo] said it’s amazing. I think it’s just great to be a part of this run he’s been on since, I don’t know how long it’s been now, but that’s what he does. He’s one of the best players in the world for a reason and it’s just a joy to watch it.
“He gives us all the confidence to be successful…”