Nick FriedelESPN staff writerMay 18, 2023, 01:51 AM ETRead 4 minutes

BOSTON — Jimmy Butler’s belief in himself and his team is so strong that it’s palpable in the Miami Heat locker room.

After dominating yet another postseason game, the superstar swingman — scoring 35 points while dishing out seven assists, six steals and five rebounds in Wednesday night’s 123-116 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals — admitted it was him. Despite the obstacles that have appeared in their path each season, the eighth-seeded Heat had faith that such a run was possible.

“Of course I did,” Butler said. “Of course we did. And the best part about it is we still don’t care what anybody thinks, to be honest. We don’t care if they pick us to beat us. We never have. We never will. We know the group of guys in this locker room. We know the coach. [Erik Spoelstra] It puts a lot of faith and trust in each and every one of us. Coach Pat [Riley] as well as.

“So our club is small, but the club loves each other. We always go out there knowing we have a chance and play and play basketball.”

The Power continues to play great basketball. After a win over the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals last month, the Heat knocked off the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games and the 5-seeded New York Knicks in six. They now lead the Celtics 1-0 — the team they beat last year to advance to the NBA Finals.

The Heat, who won Game 1 in each of their first three series in the 2023 postseason, were highlighted by their terrible play last month after the regular season.

Heat big man Bam Adebayo said: “I’d say everything that counted for us from the beginning was kind of building that chip. But the struggles we’ve had throughout the season, the struggles, the games we should have won but didn’t, going into the locker room and trying to figure out, rewrite the mistakes we made. And in this situation. to pass

“I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the league right now, like you said, because adversity is what built this. We all looked at each other and said this is the second playoff game, this is our last. This is the run. That guy, everybody bought into that will.” I feel like we’re willing to win.

No one in the league is willing to win more than Buller right now. Butler helped engineer Miami’s 46-25 victory over Boston in a third-quarter rally after the Heat slumped in nine months on Wednesday, shooting 17-for-26 from the field.

“You can’t measure it,” Spoelstra said of the confidence Butler is now bringing to the rest of the Heat’s roster. “There’s no analysis for it. It’s just a sense of calm in the locker room. Even when you’re down nine in the first half … there’s an immeasurable effect of resolution.

“It’s like, OK, we’re within striking distance. Let’s go into our game, and Jimmy makes a bunch of players, Bam makes a bunch of players, and everybody’s fine and everybody fits their role. But that’s what great players do.”

Heat guard Gabe Vincent spoke to many in the locker room when he described what it’s like to play with Buller now.

“When Jimmy plays like that, we feel like we can play with anybody, we can beat anybody,” he said. “We’ve got a couple guys like that in this locker room, but Jimmy is one of a kind.”

The scariest part of the rest of the league is Butler dispelling the idea that this game is the highest it has been in years.

“I don’t think so,” Butler said. “I feel like anything in life, if you have the opportunity and you have the faith that my teammates, my coaches, Coach Pat, my ownership is in me to lead the charge with Bam.

“I’m playing at an incredible level because they’re letting me do that. They’re not putting limits on my game. They’re trusting me with the ball, on the defensive end. I think that’s what any basketball player wants. That’s what anybody wants out of life, to be appreciated and let them go out there and swing.” .

Buller’s teammates and coaches admire him because they know how much he makes the team better every night.

“It’s exciting,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s one of the best players in the world for a reason. It’s a joy to watch him. For someone who wants something so bad and works hard at his craft, it’s important to enjoy his success. He gives us everything. The confidence to be successful and aggressive and confident, That’s what makes it special, it’s not about him, it’s about our team and our team and everybody.

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