- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
BOSTON — Miami Heat star forward Jimmy Butler has spent his life overcoming people who have slighted him, so it should come as no surprise that in the heart of a hard-fought 111-105 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday night, Butler made forward Grant WIlliams pay for talking trash to him.
The pivotal sequence of the game came midway through the fourth quarter after Williams drained a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 96-87 lead with 6:37 left. On his way back down the floor, Williams began jawing with Butler, who proceeded to smile and then responded by hitting his next shot and getting fouled by Williams for a three-point play.
After the basket, Butler immediately got head-to-head with Williams as the pair exchanged words and were each assessed a technical foul. From that point, the Heat closed the game on a 24-9 run and left Boston with a stunning 2-0 lead in the series. Butler admitted that the exchange got him rolling down the stretch.
“Yes, it did,” Butler said. “But that’s just competition at its finest. He hit a big shot, started talking to me. I like that. I’m all for that. It makes me key in a lot more. It pushes that will that I have to win a lot more. It makes me smile. It does. When people talk to me, I’m like, OK, I know I’m a decent player, if you want to talk to me out of everybody that you can talk to. But it’s just competition. I do respect him, though. He’s a big part of what they try to do. He switches. He can shoot the ball. I just don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to.”
Butler, who scored nine of his team-high 27 points following Williams’ initial words, once again showed why he has been arguably the best player in the postseason by making clutch plays down the stretch. After the game, his teammates were surprised that Williams pushed their star player to that point, but they were glad he did.
“I knew it was going to be good for us,” Heat guard Caleb Martin said. “Knowing Jimmy, at that point in the game, you get him going, we’ll take mad Jimmy any time. I knew that you could kind of see it in his eyes that he was ready to go after that.”
For his part, Williams defended his response to Butler, noting he wasn’t going to back down from anybody on the floor.
“I think he said something and I just responded,” Williams said. “I’m a competitor and I’m gonna battle. He got the best of me tonight, and at the end of the day it’s out of respect, because I’m not gonna run away from it. My mom always taught me, and my dad as well, you get your ass kicked and you don’t come back home until you come battle again. You either come back before you die or you come back and get a win, and I’m not willing to die in this finals. I’m ready to f—ing get a win. I’m ready to come back and come into Game 3 with a better mentality, and I know this team is as well.
“So at the end of the day, tonight is tonight. We’ve got to focus in and let this s— hurt, but at the end of the day we’ve gotta come in tomorrow and really focus on what’s next.”
Williams said that he expected this type of performance from Butler whether he gave him extra motivation or not.
“You expect to beat the best no matter if I lit him up tonight or not he is going to do that,” Williams said. “For me it’s a matter of understanding, yeah, sure, you did ‘poke a bear.’ And how are you going to respond? Because for me, he made some tough shots. It’s a battle. And I am going to keep battling. He’s gonna have to make every single tough shot the rest of the series. I am not going to turn and look otherwise, because I respect him as a motherf—ing player.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra just shrugged when asked about the showdown between Butler and Williams.
“Look, I love that gnarly version of Jimmy, but you get that regardless,” Spoelstra said. “I just think people now are paying a lot more attention to him now that we’ve won some games in the postseason the last few years. Jimmy is just a real competitor.”
Aside from the moment with Williams, what Butler and Spoelstra agree on is a mantra that has defined the No. 8-seeded Heat’s run through the postseason — no matter what challenges they face the group always feels like it will find a way to win.
“We see it every day in practice,” Butler said. “On off-days, guys are constantly working on their game. Guys are constantly studying film. Guys just want to win. At the end of the day, that’s all anybody wants on this roster. If you ask them to do something, as long as it’s for winning, they are going to do it. Nobody on this roster is dumb. So they can tell whenever it’s about winning and whenever you’re telling them something, because the end goal is winning.”
Spoelstra echoed a similar sentiment.
“Feels like this has just been our existence all year long,” Spoelstra said. “I guess nobody is really paying attention. But we’re in — every single game, it felt like for weeks on end, every game was ending on the last-second shot, whether we’re shooting it or the other team is shooting it.
“So you develop some grit from that. Whether that turns into confidence or not, sometimes you don’t have the confidence. But at least you have that experience of going through stuff and you understand how tough it is.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.
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