Butler’s acknowledgement came after Monday’s 99-87 Game 4 win over the Indiana Pacers in which the Heat completed a sweep despite Butler playing through pain and being hesitant to use or raise his left arm throughout the game.
“My shoulder was hurting a little bit after last game,” Butler said on a videoconference call. “It was hurting before the game, but as I was warming up, I was like maybe it will loosen up and maybe I’ll be able to play at 100 percent or whatever it was. It wasn’t the case. [I] went to the back, did a little bit of work, and then we decided, ‘You know what? We’re going to go out there and we’re going to just lock in on defense.’ I think I did that, played hard and affected the game besides scoring on the offensive end.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that it was a “soft-tissue” injury and that no MRI was scheduled at this point.
“He already was checked out by all of our trainers and everything,” Spoelstra said. “What he needs more than anything is rest, and then he’ll start to work his way back into it. I asked him if he’s like Wolverine, if he heals like that. I have seen some other injuries that looked more significant, not than this, just they look like they’re tough injuries, and he comes back the next day and he’s ready to go.”
Butler, who signed with the Heat as a free agent last summer and quickly became the leader of the group alongside longtime Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem, gutted his way through the entire game. Butler left after just six minutes to get his shoulder checked out but came back into the game at the start of the second half and helped close out the Pacers in this Eastern Conference first-round series — finishing with six points, three rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes.
“Obviously, he’s built up a resume over the course of his career being able to play through various injuries,” Spoelstra said. “His toughness will never be questioned. But we had to take a look at it in the second quarter; it wasn’t feeling great coming in, and then he got jarred again. He probably got jarred in that shoulder three or four times during the course of the game; that’s just usually the way it works out. But in the second half, he gave us some really good, competitive minutes out there, just gutting through it. And hopefully, we’ll have now a few days for him to recover.”
Butler specifically lauded his longtime personal trainer, Armando Rivas, as being the reason he believes he’ll be ready to start the second round on time. Rivas has been with Butler on his various career stops, since the end of his run with the Chicago Bulls and now as an assistant trainer with the Heat.
“I’ll be OK,” Butler said. “Figure this thing out, do more and more treatment on it every day. Armando Rivas is my guy. He always takes great care of me. The whole Heat training staff. I’ll be fine. Rest up and lock in on our next opponent.”
Butler sidestepped a question regarding the next opponent, but it is expected to be the top-seeded Bucks after they finish off an undermanned Magic squad. The Heat are 2-1 against Milwaukee this season and appear to have the length and depth to compete with a talented Bucks group led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In the short term, Heat players and coaches wanted to celebrate both the organization’s first series sweep since knocking off the Charlotte Bobcats in 2014 and that rookie Kendrick Nunn was able to contribute in his first playoff game. Nunn, who tested positive for COVID-19 and was a late arrival to the bubble, scored seven points in 14 minutes off the bench after Spoelstra elected to keep him on the bench for the first three games against the Pacers.
“It was so great to see that,” Spoelstra said of Nunn being able to contribute again. “And to see everybody’s response to him getting in there. We knew that it was a matter of time before he was going to have some kind of opportunity to get in there, whether it was foul trouble or somebody having an injury. He’s been putting in the time. These are unfortunate situations, sometimes things aren’t fair, but he kept himself ready. And you could see how he really helps our basketball team. He’s a two-way player: He can defend the ball, and he’s an offensive guy that you need in the playoffs. You need threats, guys that can make some shots, and he can do that.”
Now Butler and the Heat can get a few days off before their next series begins, which would be Friday at the earliest if the Bucks take care of business in Game 5 against the Magic on Wednesday.
“It’s important for any team,” Spoelstra said. “But we have some veteran guys and they’re professionals, so they know how to take care of themselves; but yeah, we could use a couple days, particularly guys that I was extending time. I played Goran [Dragic] a lot of minutes in this series. He was so good, it was tough to take him out.”