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HOOPS

Butler faces moment of truth

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 29: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat dribbles during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 29, 2023 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. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Maddie Meyer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Desperate. Urgent. Maniacal. Psychotic. Incredible. Unique. World-class.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has used an array of adjectives to describe Jimmy Butler over the course of his team’s remarkable postseason campaign.

On Monday, Spoelstra was once again plundering his vocabulary after Butler led Miami’s scoring in a do-or-die Game 7 blowout of the Boston Celtics to seal a place in the National Basketball Association Finals.

It was the latest in a lengthening list of towering performances from Butler, the 33-year-old forward who has invariably been the cornerstone of Miami’s odyssey through the playoffs.

In the first round, Butler scored 56 points and 42 points in Games 4 and 5 as Miami romped to a 4-1 series victory against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

In the conference semifinals, Butler averaged 24.6 points per game in a 4-2 series win over the Knicks, and then followed that up with an average 24.7 points per game in the 4-3 series win over Boston.

But as Spoelstra emphasizes, Butler’s influence on Miami’s fortunes goes far deeper than raw on-court statistics.

“You have to have a guy that you can hold on to, particularly in those moments of truth,” Spoelstra said of Butler.

“There’s no way to quantify the confidence that (Jimmy) can instill in everybody.”

“The confidence level that he can create for everybody on the roster is incredible. I’ve almost never seen anything like it.”

“He’s special because he does it on both ends of the court. He can play 48 if you need him to, and then he just has a way, also, that he has a hard edge.”

“He’s gnarly, but he knows how to have a soft touch to give somebody some confidence at the right time. That’s the special gift that he has.”

In a sense, Game 7 victory in Boston was tailor-made for Butler.

Boston had clawed their way back from a 3-0 series deficit to level at 3-3, leaving them with the chance to close out a historic series win in front of their home fans.

But Butler is rarely more comfortable when the odds and prevailing logic are against him and his teammates.

Butler and Miami have repeatedly demonstrated a fearlessness in adversity that ought to give the Denver Nuggets plenty of food for thought heading into Game 1 on Thursday (Friday in Manila).

“We’re a resilient group. We stick together through everything,” Butler said earlier in the playoffs.

“We just play hard. We know what we’re capable of. We don’t listen to the outside noise. We’re going to do what we do, learn from our mistakes and get better.”

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