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Coming into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night, the question was lingering: Can Jimmy Butler be the best player on a championship team?
While that remains to be seen, he took another step in silencing his critics, recording his fourth 40-point game of the playoffs to lead the Heat to a 111-103 victory over the Celtics. Butler’s performance kept the Heat’s season alive and now forces a Game 7 in Miami’s home building. Butler’s knee, which he injured in Game 3, hardly seemed to affect him like it did in Games 4 and 5, where he combined for just 19 points.
When it was all said and done, Butler finished with 47 points on 16-of-29 shooting with nine rebounds and eight assists. Butler surpassed Dwyane Wade’s Heat record for most points scored in a game facing elimination (46 in 2010 vs. Celtics).
Butler’s fourth quarter will likely be the headline in the days to come, as he scored 17 down the stretch. That included a deep two with 43.9 ticks remaining, in which Butler executed a catch and shoot off an inbound pass with Derrick White’s hand in his face.
Not only did Butler set Heat records, he earned a chunk of NBA history as well. Butler joins Michael Jordan as the second player with multiple 40-point, four-steal games in a series. Jordan accomplished the feat in 1988 in the First Round against the Cavaliers.
Butler was a one-man show for stretches, but it was the contributing efforts of Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker which helped guide Miami to victory. Lowry bounced back from his goose egg performance in Game 5 to go for 18 on 5-of-14 shooting with 10 assists. Tucker was gritty as usual on the defensive end, picking up five rebounds and two steals, also chipping in with 11 points on 3-of-4 from the field.
Tucker was part of a collaborative effort to slow down Jayson Tatum, who despite scoring 30 points on an efficient 9-of-12 from the field, was stifled during the fourth quarter. Tatum scored just six in the final 12 minutes, often finding himself without the ball in his hands.
The result was a near-heroic effort off the bench from Derrick White, who nearly stole the game for Boston. White scored 22 on 7-of-14 from the field and 4-of-7 from downtown. White had 11 in the fourth quarter, knocking down three threes and connecting on a floater to cut the deficit to four with 9:36 remaining.
It was his third three of the quarter, however, which gave Boston a 97-94 lead with 4:43 to play.
A Lowry three-pointer on the other end knotted it back up, before Butler took over in the final two minutes.
“Jimmy [Butler] just brought his competitive will, tonight,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And it was a will that would not let us lose.”
The two teams will have a date in Game 7 Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET at FTX Arena in Miami. The winner will advance to the NBA Finals to face the Warriors, who are making their sixth appearance in the Finals in the last eight seasons.