Miami, the eighth seed in the conference, stunned second-seeded Boston by jumping out to a 3-0 series lead. Then disaster struck as the Celtics won three straight, including an improbable buzzer-beater in Game 6, to tie the series and force a Game 7 in Boston. After reaching such incredible highs early in the series, the Heat were in great danger of becoming the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-0 series lead. Fortunately for them, they brought their best in Game 7, crushing the Celtics 103-84 on their home floor to advance to the NBA Finals.
After Game 7, Jimmy Butler won the Larry Bird Trophy as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP, edging out teammate Caleb Martin five votes to four. It wasn't too much of a surprise to see Butler win, as he is the star player and all. However, there is a very real argument that Martin should have won it instead.
With that said, here are three reasons why Martin deserved the Larry Bird Trophy over Butler.
3. Greater Consistency
On paper, Butler's stats during this series were better than Martin's. The former averaged 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.6 steals per game over the series. Meanwhile, the latter had 19.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.9 steals per game.
So, that should be enough to prove Butler deserved the trophy more, right? Well, not quite.
What those stats don't tell is that Martin was the far more consistent player throughout the series. Butler played great in Games 1 and 2, and pretty well in Game 7, but had relatively pedestrian performances in Games 3-5. He was also outright bad in Game 6, making less than a quarter of his shots from the field.
On the other hand, Martin was consistently solid in every game of the series. He scored at least 15 points and over half of his field goals in every game except for Game 5, when he had 14 points on 41.7% shooting. For the series, Martin shot 60.2% from the field and 48.9% on three-pointers, while Butler only shot 42% from the field and 34.8% on threes.
Butler may have had higher highs, but Martin was the much more reliable player throughout the series.
2. Martin's Performance Came Out of Nowhere
While these two players had similar production in this series, their roles are very different. Butler is the star of the Heat, the team goes as he does and everyone expects him to be great. To his credit, he was great through some key points of the series.
However, Martin's emergence throughout this series was just remarkable. He went undrafted and has mostly been a role player, but he played like a star in this series. If this is a preview of what's to come, he deserves to be in the Heat's Big 3 alongside Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Honestly, this probably isn't a point that voters are considering when deciding who gets the trophy. To us though, Martin playing so high above expectations should earn him some bonus points when it comes to voting.
1. Game 7 Heroics
As previously mentioned, Martin was a star for Miami throughout this series. And like a star, he played his best when the lights were brightest.
Martin had his best game of the series in Game 7 and was a big reason why the Heat dominated. He scored 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arch, along with 10 rebounds and three assists. He was the best shooter in the game across both teams, and it wasn't even close.
Butler himself sung Martin's praises after the game. He mentioned how Martin's breakout performance may be a surprise to outsiders, but the Heat always knew what he was capable of.
To us, he’s a hell of a player, hell of a defender, playmaker, shotmaker, all of the above,” Butler said. “Everybody has seen Caleb work on those shots day in, day out. It doesn’t surprise us. We have seen it every single day. I’m so proud and happy for him. I think he’s going to be even better in the next round, and I don’t think he’s going to be a surprise to anybody any longer.”
If Martin is better in the NBA Finals like Butler predicts, that will be a scary sight for the Denver Nuggets.