Every so often, just for a moment, Jimmy Butler will let you in. He’ll pull back the curtain and let you see who he is, how his mind and motivations assemble.
He mostly keeps that area closed off, opaquely answering he doesn’t care about random ideas like statistics, as he says night after playoff night.
Even if the question is framed that it’s known he doesn’t care about statistics, but his staggering ones Monday provided framework to the Miami Heat’s 118-107 Game 1 win against Boston, it’s met with a shrug.
He’s just out there, competing hard, reading the game, doing whatever’s necessary to win, as he says night after night. There’s no reason to doubt that answer.
It’s just that, every so often, he’ll show you more. He did at the end of the Philadelphia series last week, walking to the locker room and shouting in a send-off to his former team, “They chose Tobias Harris over me?”
Late Tuesday night, as he shut down the talk of his numbers — 41 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks — the physical nature of the series was mentioned and Butler perked up. This interested him.
“I like physicality,” he said. “Like, I want to run into people and see who falls down first, who is going to quit first. I think that’s the style of basketball I like to play. And so do [the Celtics].”
He mentioned one stat here: He was 0-for-2 from the 3-point line in the game.
“I want to go 0-for-0 next game, because I just want to keep banging into people,” he said.
There’s who he is, what makes him go, why his jersey is starting its rise to the rafters if this keeps going. The NBA Finals two seasons ago? His playoff run now? He had his fifth 40-point playoff game with the Heat on Tuesday night. Dwyane Wade leads the franchise with seven such games. Wade played in Miami more than 14 of his 16 NBA seasons. Butler came to Miami in 2019.
See what rare air Butler is treading? When Atlanta and Philadelphia said they couldn’t match the Heat’s physicality in the playoffs, when Boston says it needs strongman Marcus Smart back, there’s a central reason.
It’s not just Butler, of course. The Heat’s smothering team defense took over Game 1 in the second half. Coach Erik Spoelstra made adjustments, like stop switching players on Boston star Jayson Tatum. P.J. Tucker, then Victor Oladipo, held him to 1 of 8 shooting with six turnovers in the second half.
Boston went from 42 points in the paint in the first half to six in the second half. Butler outscored the Celtics in the third quarter, 17-14. He had two steals for layups in a 22-2 landslide stretch, too. He closed the night with two blocks.
“My brother is playing beautiful basketball!” Wade tweeted. “It’s a joy to watch.”
It was Wade, remember, who told Butler to play for the Heat, that he’d fit here. Butler had three bad marriages with his previous teams. You know how Spoelstra always says of the Heat’s demanding and disciplined ways, “We’re not for everyone?”
Butler isn’t for everyone, either. He can be a handful. That spectacle in the time-out huddle with Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem near the end of the regular season shows as much. Some teams can’t handle that.
Butler fits the toughness and rough fabric that defines this team. What’s telling in this moment is all the conversation is about Boston’s loss of starters Smart and Al Horford. They’re important pieces, sure. You need everyone this deep in the playoffs.
You just hear little talk of the Heat missing starting point guard Kyle Lowry. He’s important, too. It’s just that Gabe Vincent has developed into a solid replacement. Vincent and Max Strus, neither drafted, outscored Boston’s starting guards, 28-27 in Game 1.
Tucker, despite twisting his ankle, locked down Tatum.
“I didn’t know I would fall in love with a basketball player as much as I have P.J.,” Butler said. “Seriously, because he just plays incredibly hard and then got the tough job every night of guarding the opposing team’s best player and then going down there and shooting the ball five times. Like, you got to respect that.”
Game 1 again offered the Heat’s toughness. It again offered Butler’s greatness. The two ideas are married. Boston, to use Butler’s analogy of basketball, fell down first, they quit first.
But there’s a long way to go in this series.
Source: Berkshire mont