Up three games to none in the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, Butler and the Miami Heat failed to close out the series on their home floor in Game 4.
When the Heat led by 9 early in the third quarter, their chances of punching a ticket to the NBA Finals seemed good. But the Celtics, after looking rather uninspired throughout the first half, came alive, finally knocking down 3-point shots en route to a 116-99 victory.
As talk of a potential historic comeback (and collapse) builds, the Heat are doing their best to keep the result in perspective.
“If anything, it will build momentum for us knowing that we have to play with a lot more energy,” Butler said. “We’ve got to play like our backs are against the wall. But I think all year long, we’ve been better when we’ve had to do things the hard way.”
The Celtics had spent Tuesday morning’s shootaround channeling the 2004 Red Sox.
“Don’t let us get one,” said Marcus Smart.
“Don’t let us win tonight,” echoed Jaylen Brown.
Still, the odds are stacked against them. Of the 150 NBA teams to fall behind 0-3 in a seven-game series, only 14 forced a Game 6. Of those 14, three forced a Game 7.
With history on their side, the Heat downplayed any level of concern. In fact, they seemed to embrace the circumstances.
“As we know and everybody else knows, we don’t typically get things the easy way over here,” said forward Caleb Martin. “This is right up our alley. This is the way it goes for us and guys like us. I think it’s only going to prepare us for the long run. This could be good for us.”
There are reasons for Miami to be quietly nervous, though.
The Celtics, after shooting 29.2 percent from three in Games 1-3, made 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc. The Heat, meanwhile, made just 25 percent of their 3-point attempts, after shooting 47.8 percent in Games 1-3. The Game 4 numbers are much more reflective of the team’s regular-season percentages.
Grant Williams, who did not play in Game 1, has solidified his place in the rotation, logging more minutes than Al Horford, Robert Williams, and Malcolm Brogdon in Game 4. After making headlines for “poking the bear” in Game 2, Williams stayed quiet after blocking Butler on a mid-range jumper in the fourth quarter Tuesday.
Coach Joe Mazzulla, who has taken some flak for his timeout usage, called a key one in the third quarter. With the Celtics down 3, and Jaylen Brown looking stuck amid a double-team, Mazzulla took a timeout mid-possession to reset the group. The Celtics proceeded to go on a 12-0 run to take control of the game.
The Celtics want to believe they have found their rhythm after Game 4.
Asked about the potential emotional letdown of Tuesday’s loss, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he didn’t sense any of that.
“At some point, this is great competition,” he said. “Sometimes it can get skewed, because, whatever, the 3-0. But we have great respect for Boston, what they are capable of. They are a dynamic offensive team that takes extraordinary efforts and commitment to get the job done.
“Our guys really want this. But Boston has something to say about it as well, just like we do.”
Ahead of Game 5, Butler emphasized the importance of sticking to routines and keeping the mood light. As he walked off the podium Tuesday, he even cracked a joke about how the media should start a petition so he can get back the $25,000 he was fined for not speaking to reporters after Game 3.
He said he planned to listen to some music and enjoy a glass of wine with his teammates.
“I don’t think that you can just focus on basketball all the time,” Butler said. “You have to be able to get away from the game a little bit. Think about it, but, at the end of the day, you fall back on your habits, how consistent you’re going to be.
“Myself and my teammates, we’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to smile. We’re going to be in this thing together like we always are, and we are going to go get one on the road.”
Asked if he plans to say anything to the team before Game 5, Butler kept his message simple.
“The only thing I’m going to say is, ‘We’ll be OK,’ ” Butler said. “Let’s get back to doing what we’ve always done to get us to this point: continually have belief in one another, knowing that we are going to win.
“And we will. We’ve just got to play harder. There’s not too much to say with this group because we already know.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.