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For Heat, the legend of ‘Playoff Jimmy’ continues to grow

For Heat, the legend of ‘Playoff Jimmy’ continues to grow

MIAMI (AP) — Jimmy Butler insists that Playoff Jimmy — the moniker that he has now, whether he wants it or not — isn’t a thing.

His play shows otherwise.

He has scored 45 or more points five times in his NBA career, and three of those games have come in the playoffs — the most recent one coming Monday in a performance for all-time. Butler scored 56 points, tying the fourth-highest playoff scoring effort in NBA history, and carried the Miami Heat past the Milwaukee Bucks 119-114 to take a 3-1 lead in that Eastern Conference first-round series.

“I think this is where all the best players, they show up and they show out,” Butler said. “And I’m not saying I’m one of those best players. I just want to be looked at as such.”

Hard to imagine anyone not looking at him that way, especially right now.

He had 22 points in the first quarter on Monday, 21 more in the fourth. Over the last quarter-century, nobody had two 20-point quarters in the same playoff game and only one player — Damian Lillard, in his 71-point game for Portland — did it during this regular season.

Butler was 9 for 10 in the first quarter, 6 for 8 in the fourth quarter. And this came against a Milwaukee team that has three players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday — who are rightly considered among the NBA’s best defenders.

Didn’t matter. Playoff Jimmy was no match.

“I haven’t been here too long, but I’ve always had the utmost respect for him,” said Heat forward Kevin Love, who signed with Miami in February. “Love his game, love what he’s about. I mean, I hate to say arguably, but I think he’s the best closer in the game. And you saw why.”

The only players to score more in a playoff game were Michael Jordan with 63 in 1986, Elgin Baylor with 61 in 1962, and Donovan Mitchell with 57 in 2020. Butler became the fourth with 56, joining Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Charles Barkley. The previous Heat playoff record for points in a game was 49, by LeBron James.

“I think we’re witnessing a guy who continues to be in his prime and is playing at a level of basketball that not many players can get to,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “And you have to just kind of sometimes sit back and appreciate it.”

For Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, what Butler did Monday night — Miami trailed for almost the entire game and was down 14 in the fourth quarter — was reminiscent of the other top moments in the franchise’s playoff lore.

Like James scoring 45 in a must-win Game 6 on the road at Boston in 2012. Like Butler willing Miami to the NBA Finals in the bubble in 2020. Like Dwyane Wade taking over in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, erasing a double-digit deficit after his infamous “I ain’t going out like this” proclamation in the huddle and starting the Heat on their path to beating Dallas in six games for their first championship.

“I don’t think Jimmy would want me up here ranking this performance or anything,” Spoelstra said. “He views everything the way a head coach does. He’s not relaxing. He understands what we still have to do, and he understands who we’re facing.”

The Bucks are in trouble, but far from doomed. Game 5 is in their building, and if they bring it back to Miami and win Game 6 — not unthinkable, since they led on the Heat home floor for much of Monday night — they’d also have the home-court edge for Game 7.

Butler knows all this, and that was his message after scoring 56.

“The job’s not done, so we don’t want to get comfortable,” Butler said. “We’ve got one more to get.”

He leads the playoffs in scoring so far at 36.5 points per game, is shooting 63% so far in the series, has helped the Heat overcome the losses of injured shooting guards Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, and simply wore down Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in Game 4.

The legend of Playoff Jimmy kept growing.

“It’s not a thing. It’s not,” Butler insisted. “I just be hooping.”

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