Heat’s Jimmy Butler returns in style to bury Celtics with an OT win

BOSTON — Jimmy Butler, who was back after missing seven games with a sore right knee, was playing his first game at TD Garden since his masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in May.

And while Butler might not have been quite as impressive on his return Friday night, he still finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists in 36 minutes for the Miami Heat, who survived a wonderful Jaylen Brown shot in the dying seconds and won one 120-116 overtime thriller about defending Eastern Conference champions Boston Celtics.

“He’s such a successful player,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “I feel like I didn’t play a game for him in the first three quarters. He just finds a way to assert himself and help your team win.”

It had looked like Butler had closed the door on the Celtics as he made baskets of back-to-back possessions in the last minute of regulation – the first from a Kyle Lowry assist and the second after getting Al Horford to make the switch to him and bury a gorgeous fall-away jumper with 5.6 seconds left to up the Heat by three.

But then Brown came through for Boston. After taking Marcus Smart’s inbounds pass, Brown took a few dribbles and launched a 30-foot shot that sped off the backboard into the basket with 1.7 seconds left and equalized to send the game into overtime to send.

Spoelstra said he was okay with how Butler defended the game and said he was glad Butler didn’t commit a foul when Brown turned.

“It felt good coming off my hands,” said Brown, who finished with 37 points on 12-for-23 shooting. “I know we wanted to get a shot on the rim as soon as possible, if we miss we can get the rebound or the tip out, it flies.”

Butler tapped Brown’s cap.

“Jaylen did what Jaylen does and he was shooting all game,” Butler said. “It’s tough. You have to live with it. You probably should have denied it, maybe fouled him with his back to the basket, but I just hate fouling. But he played amazingly, so I’m glad he did it , but I’m glad we got the dub, so there’s that.”

The Heat didn’t falter in overtime. Instead, they pressed their advantage and put Butler in position again to close the door on the Celtics in the dying seconds. This time Butler made sure it would stay closed, burying a short jumper to improve Miami by four with 9.1 seconds left.

The Celtics lost their third overtime game of the season, falling to a league-best 18-5 this year.

“Yeah, it looked like he had his energy, his legs under him,” said Bam Adebayo, who led the heat (11-12) with 28 points and seven rebounds. “And he hit some big shots on the track.”

Miami also did a much better job at Jayson Tatum, the All-NBA forward and Celtics MVP nominee, who walked off with 49 points in Wednesday’s win over Miami. He had one of his worst games of the season on Friday night, finishing with 14 points in 5-for-18 shooting.

The 14 points and five field goals scored were both season lows for Tatum, and it was only the third time all season that he had been kept under 20 points in a game.

“It’s the greatest thing about the league,” said Adebayo. “You’re not going to stop anyone from scoring goals. I feel like we force him to hit hard every time we play him and we live with the result.”

After arguably the Heat’s biggest win so far this season, the team is hoping this is the start of a climb up the Eastern Conference table.

That belief is fueled in part by the team leader’s return on Friday night in a big way.

Butler conceded that Friday night’s thrilling win felt good.

“But we never lost confidence in the group and in ourselves,” he said. “We know what we are capable of. We just have to go out there and prove it and do it. We’re not worried about anyone else, just the guys in that dressing room, the coaching staff, the management. We still have a long way to go, but we can do it.”


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