In the 2020 NBA playoffs, Jimmy Butler was sublime, his performance pushing the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals summed up by the photo of his dying breath leaning over a courtside barrier in Game 5 of the series championships against the Los Angeles Lakers. .
In the 2021 playoffs, Butler, after his second season with the Heat, found his tank empty, shooting just .297 from the field with his team swept 4-0 in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks.
That, Butler insisted, was an outlier, a product of two years of nearly unbroken basketball created by the pandemic.
The 2022 qualifiers seem to confirm this,
Averaging 28.7 points on .525 shooting in this postseason streak to the Eastern Conference Finals, including 27.5 points per game in the 4-2 second-round ousting of the Philadelphia 76ers, Butler is creating appreciation on both sides of the aisle.
“I didn’t know how good Jimmy was until I got here,” said power forward PJ Tucker, who signed with the Heat in the offseason after winning the season championship. last with the Bucks. “I thought he was a good player like okay…he showed me more than I ever thought.
“His heart, he’s never scared in the moment and that in itself is a talent, because you’ve played with guys who are really good, but in the big moments they hesitate and they don’t want it. . But he wants every part of every moment.
And so it goes until the next round is for Butler, Tucker and the rest of the Heat, with the Eastern Conference Finals starting Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at FTX Arena.
Much like 76ers center Joel Embiid wondered what might have happened if a roster squeeze/salary cap hadn’t led to Butler’s exit from the 76ers in the 2019 offseason.
“Obviously he’s my guy,” Embiid said shortly after Philadelphia’s abrupt end to the season. “He’s my brother. Oh man, it’s hard. But I’m so proud of him. He’s playing at an unreal level right now. He’s something else right now. I’m proud that he’s at this level and that he wears them and what he was able to do.
“They’ve had their ups and downs all season. The guys who are missing, who are not healthy, and they still found a way to be the number one team in the East and be able to come and do what they did, they deserve a lot of credit.
Upon Butler’s departure to Philadelphia, the 76ers not only prioritized Ben Simmons as a centerpiece, but also committed to a $180 million deal to trade Tobias Harris this offseason.
Simmons this season was dealt at the NBA’s February trading deadline to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden, who failed in the playoffs, disappearing in Thursday night’s Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center. As for Harris, Butler walked into the victorious locker room Thursday night mocking the 76ers’ decision to roll with Harris as a cornerstone.
The not-so-feigned outrage made it clear that this was a driven Jimmy Butler, his five 30-point playoff games already a career high in a postseason.
“I love being here in Miami,” Butler said as Thursday turned to Friday. “I love the group of guys we have, and I’m not changing what happened. I’m here for a reason, and we’re going to ride this wave and bring it back to 305, prepare for the next round and work our way to this championship.
“Now I’m where I belong, I guess where I should have been a long time ago, a place where I’m welcome.”
“I think he’s one of the ultimate competitors in this profession so I think a lot of things get lost in translation and I think as this league gets younger I think it ends up being about some things that aren’t about winning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He competes on both sides. He is an extremely effective attacking player and when his only objective is to lead a team to win, all other things are irrelevant.
“He was brilliant throughout the series. He understands it was just that series and the challenges only get harder from here.