It was just the way the Miami Heat wanted it, precisely the way Jimmy Butler envisioned it.
A dogfight in need of the biggest dog in the yard, barking the loudest, biting the hardest.
The Boston Celtics won’t run away and hide from the Heat, and vice-versa — which means every game in this Eastern Conference Finals will likely come down to the simplest of strategies: Who can get a bucket late, who can make plays in scramble situations that derive from instinct and intellect.
Just put me in charge, Jimmy says.
His two late go-ahead buckets in the last possessions of regulation and overtime to give Miami a 1-0 lead signifies all that he’s asked for since becoming Jimmy Butler, superstar over five years ago. A franchise that would empower him, surround him, put up with his quirks but yet give him the structure he so craves.
The Chicago Bulls didn’t know what to do with him, didn’t believe his talent was worth paying and building around.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers didn’t want to hear him when he put up that mirror, one of a funhouse variety to those franchises.
But the Miami Heat?
He didn’t need the mirror, he saw in them what he wanted to be, and how he hoped things would line up for him to be on a contender regardless of the circumstances. Three wins away from reaching a summit not many believed this combination could achieve, this Jimmy Butler, these Miami Heat.
Make no mistake, this is Pat Riley’s franchise, and soon to be Erik Spoelstra’s. The connective tissue is obvious between the two, and it’s echoed from the top down.
But on the floor, Butler is in charge, a leader in ways that more talented superstars aren’t by force of personality. When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play well, it’s a great thing for the Los Angeles Clippers, but there’s no emotional inspiration.
Butler once asked an impartial observer if he were better than those two, more heralded, celebrated and talented players. And he made it a point to want to be in that class, even if most franchises would consider those two more ready to be the face of a franchise — but he’s more determined to get it, to dig it out from wherever the game is.
“You gotta have a guy willing to put himself out there [emotionally]. We were fortunate,” Spoelstra said of Butler. “I don’t know, that’s his makeup. The moment’s not too big. He’s vulnerable enough to put himself out there.”
You won’t catch Butler being vulnerable in the traditional way. He’s much too proud, too hardened to behave that way outwardly. But when he passes up good shots for better shots, when he controls tempo without playing point guard, when he so pointedly tells everyone within earshot that his guys can play, he’s creating something special.
“I think my confidence in my guys grows every single second,” Butler said. “They’re not scared of any team. I have all the faith in these guys.”
And even though he won’t say it, he’s thankful for it. As tough as he is, he’s a pleaser at heart. Butler wants you to follow him, but he wants you to believe in him more than anything.
His tough love is doused with plenty of love.
“I do what I’m told to do. You take what the game gives you,” Butler said. “If I don’t shoot that or I pass it, my teammates will make it. It’s me tonight, the next time it’ll be Goran or Bam or Jae.”
The Heat refuse to be pushovers not because of Butler, so he doesn’t have to drag the unlikely bunch along. It’s in their DNA, so there’s no panic when the more talented Celtics hit them with haymakers twice to go up double-digits.
“Let’s be real. We got down because they were playing great,” Spoelstra said. “They were putting it to us. They’re a really good defensive team. “We had some grit there, going down 12, staying with it.”
Staying with it means Butler doesn’t have to force shots, that confidence he’s injected in Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic’s existing confidence can manifest itself. And when they’re right on the doorstep, they can turn to Butler and he can deliver.
“My teammates have the most faith in me to make a basket or make the right pass out of that,” Butler said. “I think I’m calm because I know my role. Of course Spo is barking at me to make a play. We do a great job of knowing where the ball has to go.”
He’s been where Bam Adebayo was, a defensive player who was still growing into his pro game, with so much quiet potential. So when the ball went to Jayson Tatum and Tatum aired toward the rim and Adebayo sent it back to save the game, it confirmed all the things Butler believes: That Adebayo is the future, and that the Heat are tougher than you when it matters most.
“It was a huge play. [Magic] knows,” said Butler when told of Magic Johnson’s tweet about the block being the best defensive play in the history of the game. “That’s what it takes to win championships. I would agree with him. What Bam did to save the game, that is a really great play.”
It won’t be an easy series. The Celtics are full of talented players who can get rugged and will win their share of battles. Tatum and Jaylen Brown will challenge Butler, even though he got the better of them on the opening night.
But Game 1 is merely the courting period, of what appears to be a very long dance … into the mud.
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How will Carabao Cup fixture play out tonight?
The tie of the round in the EFL Cup fourth round takes place at Anfield on Monday night, as Liverpool host Arsenal.
These two teams only met on Monday night in the Premier League, with the Reds running out dominant winners on that occasion.
When they met in this competition last season, however, a back-and-forth encounter ended 5-5, with Liverpool triumphing on penalties – but the Gunners won the league game at the end of last season and also won on spot-kicks in the Community Shield.
Both teams are likely to make plenty of changes from the Monday night team sheets.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the game.
We may earn commission from some of the links in this article, but we never allow this to influence our content.
When is it?
The match kicks off at 7:45 pm on 1 October, at Anfield.
How can I watch it?
The game will be shown live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event. Subscribers can also stream the game via the Sky Go app.
If you’re not a Sky customer you can grab a NOWTV Day Pass here to watch without a subscription.
What is the team news?
Liverpool are without the injured Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Thiago Alcantara has been returned a positive coronavirus test and will miss out.
Arsenal have the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari and Shkodran Mustafi injured. Sead Kolasinac is unlikely to play as he negotiates a transfer away and Cedric Soares is a doubt.
Liverpool: Adrian; N Williams, Gomez, Van Dijk, Milner; Grujic, Jones, Wijnaldum; Shaqiri, Minamino, Jota.
Arsenal: Runarsson; Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Maitland-Niles, Willock, Ceballos, Saka; Pepe, Nketiah, Nelson.
Liverpool – 16/13
Draw – 56/19
Arsenal – 13/5
Somewhat less utter dominance from the home side compared to the league match, and potentially more defensive lapses from both teams. There are usually goals when Reds and Gunners clash and last year in the cup they drew 5-5. Perhaps not quite as dramatic, but still an eventful game which Liverpool just edge. Liverpool 3-2 Arsenal
Liverpool’s performance against Arsenal was far from ‘sloppy’ – unlike the post-match analysis
Wait, is the Yankees bullpen good enough to win a World Series?
The Yankees won their wild card series. They fought back, figured it out, and overcame blunders in a wild 10-9 victory over Cleveland that literally began in September and concluded in October.
For all of this, they deserve to celebrate. But they’re trying to win a World Series, not merely the first round. And to that end, this game introduced a significant question: Is their bullpen strong enough to get them through the month?
Were we so busy talking about other Yankee problems this year — the injuries! The inconsistent offense! Gerrit Cole’s hardly existent mini-slump, even! — that we failed to notice all the holes in the ‘pen.
On Wednesday, this was suddenly impossible to ignore. Needing 15 outs from his relievers after a short start from Masahiro Tanaka, there was nothing Aaron Boone could do to paper over or manage around several painful truths: Tommy Kahnle is badly missed. Adam Ottavino is currently unreliable. Chad Green is not quite what he was a year ago.
Put that all together, and you have Jonathan Loaisiga facing Francisco Lindor in the eighth inning of a tie game in the playoffs. To use a term favored by the analytically-savvy Yankees, this is not the ideal lane for him.
Perhaps over the past few years we’ve come to take a dominant bullpen for granted. Last October, the team hardly needed length from its starters because the pen was so loaded. Green dominated in late innings or as an opener, Kahnle stabilized after a bumpy 2018, and Ottavino’s frisbee slider helped him to cruise through the regular season before running into postseason struggles.
On Wednesday night, Tanaka’s exit after four innings forced a gut check from Boone. It turned out he could only trust Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
Green allowed an RBI double to Jose Ramirez on a curveball, a curious pitch selection. Britton got a big double play but issued two walks in the seventh.
Knowing he needed to replace Britton, Boone went to Loaisiga over Ottavino. We could understand his reluctance. Ottavino struggled in the playoffs last year, and allowed hard contact during this regular season at a rate worse than 98 percent of pitchers in the league.
But as one savvy baseball person texted after Loaisiga entered Wednesday’s game, “Why is Ottavino on the roster if you’re not going to use him there?”
Pressed afterward about his level of trust in Ottavino, Boone did what he always does and defended the player. He also noted that because Cleveland has so many switch hitters and lefties, it was hard to find a lane in this series for the right-handed Ottavino.
“Otto is still going to be in big spots,” Boone said. “Especially when there are difficult, challenging, right-handed lanes. This team is kind of unique with all the switch hitters and some of the lefties they have sprinkled in. Otto is going to find himself in a big spot, in a big game probably more than once.
“There are going to be obvious non-pinch hitting situations and obvious lanes, and there are going to have to be situations where he’s in where he probably is going to have to be facing a lefty, too. He’s capable.”
Because he was reluctant to call for Ottavino Wednesday, it occurred to us to ask Boone if he might address his bullpen issues by using Deivi Garcia in late-inning, high-leverage spots this month. Boone said that he would not, because he planned to use Garcia as a starter.
He’ll need the rookie to succeed in that role, and pitch relatively deep into games. Cole, Tanaka, J.A. Happ and perhaps Jordan Montgomery will have to do the same. It’s clear that every time a starter leaves early, Boone will have to walk a tightrope to the seventh inning, when he can begin to think about using Britton and Chapman.
It’s also clear, even in the afterglow of a hard-fought win, that the task ahead will not be easy.
Seager homers, Dodgers beat Brewers 4-2 in playoff opener
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers’ powerful lineup went mostly quiet against the Milwaukee Brewers. Still, baseball’s best team in the regular season generated just enough offense and got plenty of help from the opposing pitcher.
Mookie Betts had two hits and an RBI and Corey Seager homered in the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory in the opener of their NL playoff Wednesday night.
The eight-time NL West champion Dodgers capitalized early in a bullpen game for the Brewers and can wrap up the best-of-three series Thursday. Milwaukee – a playoff entrant despite a losing record – limped into the postseason as the No. 8 seed without its best starter and reliever, who are hurt.
”A walk is just as good as a hit sometimes, which we showed in the first inning,” Seager said. ”You don’t always have to have the big hit to score runs.”
The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead on a leadoff double by Betts and four walks by left-hander Brent Suter in the first, tying for the most walks by a pitcher in a single inning in postseason history. Betts scored when Will Smith drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded. Seager walked and scored on AJ Pollock’s bases-loaded walk.
”We took our walks and scratched out some runs,” said Seager, who hit just behind Betts.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, ”You’d be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2 in baseball.”
Suter needed 32 pitches to get out of the inning. He gave up three runs and three hits in 1 2/3 innings. He doubled his season total of five walks, and he didn’t record a strikeout.
”Nerves going on, excited to be out there, then Mookie gets that leadoff double. I missed some corners, then all of a sudden snowball effect,” Suter said. ”I felt like I let the team down big-time.”
Chris Taylor doubled leading off the second and scored on Betts’ double, making it 3-0. Max Muncy walked with two outs and Ryan Braun caught Smith’s drive to right at the wall to end the inning, potentially saving three runs.
Braun winced as he hit the wall with his right shoulder. He left in the fifth with mid-back discomfort.
”He hurt himself Sunday in St. Louis and we tried to give it a shot today and at some point it was a no-go,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. ”You could call it day-to-day.”
The Dodgers could have inflicted more damage but were just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position in the first two innings.
Milwaukee pitchers retired 10 straight Dodgers during one stretch.
With the Dodgers clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh, Seager went deep to straightaway center off Freddy Peralta, who gave up just two homers during the shortened 60-game season. The Dodgers led the majors with 118 homers.
Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen walked pinch-hitter Jace Peterson with two outs in the ninth. Christian Yelich came to the plate as the potential tying run, but he struck out swinging to end the game. Jansen earned the save.
”Despite pitching about as bad as I’ve ever pitched, we still had a chance to win,” Suter said.
The Brewers closed to 3-2 on Orlando Arcia’s two-strike, two-run homer with two outs in the fourth. Betts made an over-the-shoulder catch to deny Avisail Garcia with a runner on for the second out of the inning.
Milwaukee had the potential tying run on in the seventh with Yelich’s two-out double. Tyrone Taylor popped up to end the inning.
The Brewers also threatened in the sixth. Garcia singled and was safe at second on Muncy’s fielding error at first base. Muncy turned and scrambled into short right, trying to pick up the ball with a swooping motion, but it went off his glove and rolled away.
Julio Urias retired the next two batters to end the inning.
”We gave ourselves a shot,” Counsell said. ”We just didn’t come through.”
Urias got the victory, allowing three hits in three innings and striking out five. He had a runner on base in each of his innings, but didn’t allow a run.
Garcia had three hits and Yelich two to lead the Brewers.
Pitching with a blister on his right index finger, Walker Buehler allowed two runs and three hits in four innings for Los Angeles. He struck out eight and walked two.
Roberts pulled Buehler once he got over 20 pitches in the fourth.
”At that point in time is when the blister starts to show itself a little bit,” Roberts said. ”We just didn’t know what we were going to get from Walker.”
Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes and reliever Devin Williams are missing this series with injuries that occurred in the last week of the season. Burnes has a strained left oblique and Williams has a sore right shoulder. Starting pitcher Brett Anderson also was left off the roster because of a blister issue.
Losing Williams is a big blow after he emerged as one of baseball’s top relievers this season and is a top contender for NL Rookie of the Year. He went 4-1 with a 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 innings.
”It’s really crushing, honestly,” said Williams, who felt tightness after last weekend’s outing. ”If we make it to the next round, I should be back. With the progress we’ve made in just a few days, it’s been encouraging.”
The Dodgers give the ball to left-hander Clayton Kershaw (6-2, 2.16 ERA) for Game 2 on Thursday. He’s 9-11 with a 4.43 ERA in the postseason and lost his lone start in last year’s NLDS. The Brewers start right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who was 3-5 with a 3.05 ERA during the shortened season. He came up big last weekend with 10 strikeouts over eight shutout innings in a must-win game that helped Milwaukee eke out the No. 8 playoff seed.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
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