Four years ago, after winning a third title in four seasons,
Draymond Green offered the Golden State Warriors' front office some
advice before the 2018 NBA Draft, which included a directive to
target “16-game players.”
And although people are sparring daily with FOX Sports
personality Nick Wright over his thoughts on Nikola Jokić and
LeBron James among others, he drew the Green claim as a
reaction to Jimmy Butler’s epic 45-point game performance Tuesday
night in a 115-105 Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
If you polled a consensus of NBA Twitter, media, players or
front office people about whether or not Trae Young is the best
player in this series, an educated guess would suggest that those
largely outside of Miami (and New York) would vote “Yes.”
And in doing so, it’s understandable, right? Young is a
superstar offensive talent who projects to be a perennial All-Star
and an All-NBA challenger, if healthy, for much of his prime. But
also in doing so, perhaps it ignores what could be brought on the
other end of the floor by Butler, who is at least a candidate to
make an All-Defensive Team for a sixth time in nine seasons.
(I affectionately refer to Butler as the Ed Reed of the NBA
because of his elite ability at playing free safety. His running
mate Bam Adebayo is Darrelle Revis, for what it’s worth.)
Whether you prefer an offensive-production machine who routinely
offers the league’s most tantalizing highlights, or a two-way
grinder with the grit of Stone Cold Steve Austin and immense impact
that often goes overlooked as a result in a world of flashier, Rey
Mysterio-types, whoever you think the actual best player in the
series probably doesn’t matter.
What matters is this: It bears reminding that Butler is a
16-game player. He’s damn good in the regular season too, but time
an timed again, he’s proven it in the playoffs, and it needs to be
(Before the NBA Twitter mob comes, this is not to say Young
necessarily isn’t, especially after last year’s postseason run.
We’re just turning our focus to Butler now for the purposes of this
In Game 2, Butler finished with 45 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
and a pair of steals, He subtly patrolled the Heat’s defensive
secondary, manipulating Atlanta's guards to lob
seemingly-out-of-range alley-oops that were detected and slapped
toward a Miami teammate to initiate a break. In addition, the
32-year-old star bullied his way to the free-throw line to tilt the
power in his team’s favor.
Still, this was a different type of contest-controlling
outburst than one we’re accustomed to seeing from the Tomball,
Nah, man. This sh*t was loud.
Butler shot 15 of 25 from the field, 4 of 7 from three and 11 of
12 on three throws. When the team needed a bucket, Butler
delivered, solving the Heat’s late-game issues for the night — a
question that's made many hesitant on pegging Miami as a true
contender despite being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern
As the Hawks seemed to get hot from the floor, cutting the Heat
lead to 64-62 with 8:59 to go in the third quarter, Butler drilled
his third three of the game two possessions later. One minute
after, he extended the lead to double figures with a lay-up
following a defensive board, which prompted a Nate McMillan
timeout. The Hawks would again come within single digits following
6-0 run late in the third, and Max Strus found Butler for a dunk
with 1:48 to go in the period.
In the fourth, Butler produced 9 points, 2 assists and a steal,
and he found Gabe Vincent (who himself had a fantastic two-way
effort off the bench) for a triple with 6:12 left in the game; it
was a key moment to stretch a narrowing four-point lead to
As the Hawks again sliced it down again with 3:53 left, Butler
came out of a timeout, penetrated the lane, drew in the defense and
found an open Adebayo for a dunk — his easiest bucket of the
playoffs so far. Not going away, the Hawks cut it to three, but
Jimmy drove into a slam with 2:16 left to bring Miami's lead back
up to five. And on the ensuing offensive possession, Butler drained
a fourth three to make it 109-101 Heat with 1:36 remaining in the
game, essentially the dagger.
We know about what Butler did in the 2020 NBA Playoffs and
those Finals in particular. And in 2019, if it
wasn’t for his performance in the seven-game East semifinals series
against the Toronto Raptors, there’s no telling how long that
Philadelphia 76ers team would’ve lasted.
In that series, Butler averaged 6.9
points per fourth quarter, totaling 12 of 24 shooting and 21 of 23
on free throws and leading the team with 8.6 minutes per fourth
Joel Embiid logged 7.8 minutes per fourth and averaged 4.0
points on 8 of 16 shooting from the field and 10 of 14 on free
throws. Ben Simmons played 8.3 minutes per fourth and averaged 1.7
points on 4 of 6 shooting and 2 of 4 on free throws. (Simmons took
6 shots in 50 total fourth-quarter minutes and didn’t play the
fourth at all in Game 5). And Tobias Harris? 2.0 points through 8.1
minutes per fourth, shooting 5 of 22 in the final period overall.
J.J. Redick? 2.0 points in 6.0 minutes per.
That summer, Simmons and Harris were maxed, and Butler landed in Miami.
(And if you’d like to hold up the 2021 playoffs to detract
Butler, you can. But, you must also note that the Heat and Los
Angeles Lakers had a seven-week offseason between the NBA Finals
and training camp, and the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets had
nine each; they all flamed out last spring for a reason.)
Tuesday night's performance capped an imperfect offensive
display from Miami, who settled for too many jump shots in favor of
attacking the rim with Bogdan Bogdanović, DeAndre Hunter and Kevin
Huerter all being in foul trouble throughout, but every playoff
game is its own experience.
As the Heat head into Atlanta with a 2-0 lead, Adebayo and Tyler
Herro — who’ve combined for 36 points through the first two games —
have yet to leave their offensive imprint on the series. If you
throw in Kyle Lowry in the mix, the number only grows to 55
If at least one guy is able to have a breakthrough on the road,
Miami will probably not need another 45-pointer from Butler, so
long as the team defends to or near its capabilities.
And if that doesn't happen, one, it'd be a surprise, but two,
who else is better suited to grind you to an ugly-but-effective-ass
81-77 road victory?
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