Jimmy Butler went for the “kill shot.” His pull-up three-pointer would have put the Miami Heat ahead of the Boston Celtics with about 16 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals, but it missed. Boston got the rebound, made its free throws, and avoided what would have been a stunning collapse by punching its ticket to the NBA Finals.
Butler had some incredible performances in that series — dropping 41 points in Game 1, 47 points in Game 6, and 35 points to claw the Heat back into Game 7 — but Miami still lost a Game 7 on its home floor after finishing with the No. 1 seed in the East during the regular season. When Game 7 was over, Butler sat in front of reporters and told them Miami would be right back in the same place next year, but this time they would get it done.
“We had enough,” Butler said. “Next year, we will have enough, and we’re gonna be right be right back in this same situation and we’re gonna get it done.” Watch the clip here:
For most of this season, Butler’s prophecy looked like a bust. At no point did he ever lose faith.
“We’re still going to win the championship, and I don’t care what nobody says,” Butler says about his Heat while shaking his head. “Count us out. We’re going to win the f****** championship. I’m telling you. I don’t give a damn that we started 2-5…
“Yeah, we’re 2-5, but we straight,” Butler says. “We’ve got time, man. We’ve just got to play with a little bit more urgency and realize how fragile this thing is, trust in one another and play basketball the right way on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot of good things, so I don’t get discouraged. I know we have these (good) stretches (in games), and it’s like, ‘Damn, they really can do it.’ We can do it. We’ve just gotta do it consistently.”
Miami mostly had the same roster from last season’s 53-win No. 1 seed, with the biggest exception being the offseason departure of forward P.J. Tucker to the Philadelphia 76ers. Whether it was injuries to Butler and his supporting cast, early-season experimentation gone wrong, or just some cold shooting, the Heat were a .500 team as the calendar turned to 2023.
It looked like the Heat had a lane to climb up the East standings after the Brooklyn Nets blew it up by dealing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline. It didn’t really happen. Even as Miami solidified itself as an above .500 team, they couldn’t pass the new-look Nets to reach the No. 6 seed and get out of the play-in tournament. The biggest culprit was a lackluster offense: Miami finished No. 25 in offensive efficiency. The same team that finished No. 1 in the NBA in three-point percentage a year ago (37.9 percent) now finished No. 27 (34.4 percent) with mostly the same roster.
The Heat had to earn their way into the playoffs through the play-in tournament. They hosted the Atlanta Hawks for the right to the No. 7 seed, and got totally outclassed down the stretch in a 116-105 loss. Now Miami had a do-or-die game against the Chicago Bulls for the No. 8 and final seed in the East playoffs.
The Heat led most of the way, but Chicago forged ahead with under three minutes left. That’s when Miami went on a furious closing run to keep their season alive, and earn a 102-91 victory.
No one gave Miami a chance in their first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. We ranked the Bucks as the championship favorite entering the playoffs. A No. 8 seed had advanced past a No. 1 seed only five times in NBA history. Somehow, the Heat pulled it off.
Yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Game 1 injury played a role. But even with Antetokounmpo in the lineup for Game 4 and Game 5, Miami won both contests to close out the series and send the Bucks into an existential crisis. Butler played one of the greatest first round series ever to pull off the upset: he averaged 37.6 points, six rebounds, 4.8 assists on nearly 60 percent shooting from the field.
The New York Knicks were the next opponent for Miami. Butler sprained his right ankle at the end of Miami’s Game 1 victory in Madison Square Garden. Butler missed Game 2, which the Knicks won, but when he returned it felt like Miami was in complete control of the series. The Heat eventually won in six games, and set up the rematch Butler predicted at the end of last season.
The Heat stunned the Celtics to winning the first two games of the series in Boston. When Miami won Game 3, it looked like we could have a pair of sweeps in the conference finals for the first time ever. Instead, Boston roared back with three consecutive wins to force a Game 7. The Heat were in danger of becoming the first team in NBA Playoffs history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose the series. Boston was a strong favorite with all the momentum and homecourt advantage entering Game 7, but the Heat left no doubt in the second half that they were the better team. The Heat beat the Celtics, 103-84, to win Game 7 and secure another spot in the NBA Finals.
Jimmy Butler said Miami would make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals after last season’s crushing loss. The Heat almost missed the playoffs entirely, but ever since they qualified the team has turned it around in a stunning and historic way.
There’s one more Butler prophecy still on the line. Butler said the Heat would “win the f——— championship” this season after their 2-5 season. The Denver Nuggets are now the only thing standing in their way. Check out the full schedule for the 2023 NBA Finals here.