Boston Celtics

For the most part, the Celtics had done a good job of containing Heat star Jimmy Butler in the Eastern Conference Finals. After scoring 41 points in Game 1, Butler was limited to point totals of 29, eight, six, and then 13 in the ensuing four games. While he may have been dealing with a knee injury during some of that stretch (he left Game 3 early, but was never listed on any injury report), some of that was due to the Celtics’ smothering defense.

In Friday night’s Game 6 though, Butler cracked the code and locked in. The 32-year-old scored a career postseason-high 47 points on 16-of-29 shooting. He busted out of a slump from deep that’s been with him pretty much throughout the playoffs, hitting four of eight shots from behind the three point line. On top of that, he flirted with a triple-double with nine points and eight rebounds. Ultimately, he was the driving force behind Miami’s 111-103 win that forced a Game 7 in the series.

What was different about Butler’s game Friday night?

“Well the threes – he’s been off this series from three. He came out and hit three-for-three, goes four-for-eight on the night,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka noted after the game. “We adjusted from there, and got better as the night went on. But his aggressiveness, getting to the free throw line – 11-for-11 – that usually indicates that he’s being aggressive and playing well. Matching his intensity from the start, it wasn’t there. He put his head down, got to the basket, way too many easy shots or point-blank layups. Just poor defense on our part on him, when we had done really good in the past.”

“We could have made some of those [shots] a little bit tougher for him,” Jayson Tatum added, “But I give him his credit, he played extremely well tonight for his team.”

Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said that some of what Butler accomplished was beyond the Celtics defense, although they still have room to improve in guarding him in Game 7.

“He just had it rolling. Made a lot of shots that on film, we’ll live with,” Brown explained. “He made four threes – I don’t think he’s made four threes in a game all playoffs [Butler had one such game in Game 2 of the first round, but hadn’t hit more than two threes in a game since]. Tonight he came out and he was aggressive. He played like his back was on the wall and he had an amazing game. We just had no answers for him tonight. We’ve got to do a better job – we will do a better job on Sunday.”

“He came out from the jump and put his imprint on the game,” Derrick White added. “[He] made some tough shots, we gave him some. We’ll watch the film and get better on it.”

For Butler’s part, he told ESPN after the game that he got inspiration before the game from a Miami Heat legend. “I got a phone call and a text message from D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] earlier today,” Butler shared. “And he was telling me that I could do this. ‘Knee a little banged up, but nobody cares. Continue to build your legacy.’ And it meant the world to me.”

Wade was on the floor for a similar legendary performance by a Miami Heat star in a Game 6 at TD Garden. Almost 10 years ago to the day, LeBron James posted 45 points and 15 rebounds in a 98-79 Heat win. That Miami team was also down 3-2 heading into that game, and went on to win the series.

Can the Celtics pull out a different result than the one they got 10 years ago in a similar situation. James followed that performance with a 31-point, 10-rebound Game 7. Butler would have to break trends to find similar success – the last five times he’s scored 40 points in the playoffs, he’s followed up with an average of 21.4 points per game the next time out. That’s not an insignificant number, but without another big offensive performance elsewhere on the roster it’s likely not enough to get the Heat a victory.

The Celtics have just one off day to refine their current plan or come up with a new plan to slow down or stop Butler. Game 7 is Sunday night in Miami, with coverage beginning at 8 p.m. on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.