There are several different kinds of stars in the NBA. The first kind is an elite performer when things are going really well and the pressure isn’t high. Those stars turn in jaw-dropping performances in the regular season but always leave you wanting more in the postseason. Enter James Harden.
Then, there are stars who consistently perform in the regular season, but always hit their highest point in the playoffs. These are the elitist of the elite and who deserve a spot in the conversation of all-time greats. Enter LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Jimmy Butler is somewhere in between those two kinds of stars this season in Miami. His 19.9 points, six rebounds and six assists per game in the regular season don’t scream superstar, but he’s been consistently one of the best players for the Heat and the heart and soul of Heat culture. But Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have pieced together a roster that doesn’t require Butler to score 26-30 points per game. There are all-stars like Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic and a supporting cast of role players and young talent to complement the top-end talent.
Butler has always been a guy who steps up late in games. He did it early against the Bucks as Miami was taking control of that series and again in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics.
But what Butler hasn’t been asked to do is completely take over games. It’s the whole idea behind the Heat roster. It’s by committee. But Miami’s other two all-stars are out. Dragic has a torn plantar fascia tear in his foot and Adebayo is struggling with a neck strain.
That leaves one way for the Heat to win any games in the NBA Finals against a Lebron and AD led Lakers team: Jimmy Butler has to take over for four quarters.
That’s exactly what he did. The result? The Heat got a much needed first win in Game 3 of the 2020 NBA Finals.
“He is a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 3. “Obviously, this was a very desperate, urgent game and he was doing it on both ends of the court just putting his imprint at every important part of the game.”
Butler was there from the jump — and he has been this entire series. In the first half, he was 8-of-12 from the field scoring 19 points along with six rebounds and six assists. Sound familiar? Those are his 2019-20 season averages. His second half was even better. Not only did he maintain his first half efficiency, but he got to the free throw line six more times going 9-of-10 from the charity stripe in the final 24 minutes. He scored 21 second half points including 10 points, five assists and two rebounds in the fourth quarter.
What makes this even more impressive is the fact that Butler isn’t a high volume shot taker. Many stars comfortably take 22-28 shots in a game without blinking an eye. Game 3 was just the third time in these playoffs that Butler has taken more than 19 shots in a game. When taking into account the number of free throws he took, it was more like 27 shot attempts but the box score reflects the shots that counted as field goals.
In other words, Butler is a star that has the luxury of fitting nicely into a system that runs even when he’s not playing well. Now, that luxury is gone. He was clearly aware of the change to his role in Game 2, but Game 3 is where he executed it to the fullest extent. He also played more than 40 minutes in those two games for the second and third time these playoffs. The other 40+ minute game came in the overtime victory in Game 1 of the East Finals.
Spoelstra alluded to it after the game, but Butler isn’t just doing it on the offensive end. His elite conditioning allows him to do it on both ends of the floor. He also turned in two steals and two blocks as he was also asked to guard James on defense. In 8:01 of defending, according to NBA.com, James had just nine points and Butler was a big part of forcing James into committing eight turnovers in Game 3.
The production is up, the numbers are up, the minutes are up all when the Heat have no choice other than to lean on Jimmy Butler.
“I tell coach all the time,” Butler said. “I’m ready for this. The biggest stage, whatever you ask me to do, I can do it.”
Well, the Heat are asking him to do everything right now, and Butler exceeded expectations in the biggest moments the sport has to offer.
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