MIAMI – Vision Jimmy Butler, who slipped over a key barrier, during the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando Bubble, was drawn into the fabric of the league’s collective consciousness. In that series, the Miami Heat star went toe-to-toe LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, scoring 35 and 40 triple-A points while pushing the Los Angeles over the edge.
Butler, who scored 45 playoff points during his career in the Heat’s 115-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday to advance 2-0 in the first-round series, has changed since that decisive round.
“I’m a different player now than I was back then,” Butler said, after pulling the string 7-0 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of Game Two, increasing Miami’s lead from three to ten to secure the win. “I just always want to play basketball the right way and do whatever it takes to help this team, this organization win. That’s why they brought me here.”
After Butler joined the Heat as a free agent in 2019, he led the team to two league title wins in the bubble, but then Miami bowed to eventual champions Milwaukee Bucks in a first-round sweepstakes last year.
His transformation was launched by adding Kyle Lowrywho brought with him the championship experience when he left the Toronto Raptors to sign with the Heat last summer.
“I’m not as dominant on the ball as I was in the bubble,” Butler said. “We’ve got a starting goalkeeper, and this is Kyle, and I love him being a starting goalkeeper.
“I just go out there and try to score. And if I can’t score, pass the ball. We’re a different team; I’m a different player.”
On Tuesday, Butler was also a different player than the regular season, when he hit only 23.3% of three-pointers. Butler went 4-for-7 from the depths of Game 2, while Atlanta’s top scorer Tra Young He shot 2 for 10 in 3 seconds, bringing his series total to just 2 for 17.
Miami coach Eric Spoelstra said Butler’s sudden outburst reminded him of the only other player besides James in the team’s history to match three playoffs in Butler’s 40-point career: Dwyane Wade.
“It’s actually a good comparison, because if you had those moments of pressure and moments of truth, if you were on the other side, would you want to give Dwyane Wade 3 points? Because he’s a killer,” she said. He will seize that moment. Jimmy has many of those same qualities. You can say whatever the ratio – get rid of all those when it comes to winning. He’ll find a way to kill you.”
Only he will do it his own way. On Tuesday afternoon, Butler spent the lead up to receiving information by sharing his Instagram story that he was listening to “I Want It That Way” from the Backstreet Boys and playing a game of spades.
“They screamed their tails, too,” Butler said of the card game. “I’m a huge Backstreet Boys fan and love to compete in anything.”
Lowry said that butler’s loving ways are only part of the equation.
“I think you have to have this dark side and this kind of behavior to push others to be better,” he said of Butler. “But you also have to have the talent and work ethic to do that. You can talk about it, but if you’re not interested in it and it doesn’t show up, it makes a difference. And it shows.”
Butler finished 15-for-25 from the field in Game 2 – joining Wade and James as the only Heat players with many playoff shots – and was 11-for-12 from the spoiled streak. He had no turnover and no fouls to score 45 points, becoming the first player since the Hawks legend Dominic Wilkins In 1988 to publish a stat postseason line like that.
Butler stole twice, one of which came in with a foul pass from Young to give the Hawks’ guard 10 turnovers a game — a record for a Heat opponent in a playoff.
“With the same level of attack, he’s done some pretty amazing things defensively,” Spoilstra said.
The old butler took the heat to the brink of a champagne celebration, but failed. His coach said the player leading the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference this season is determined to go all the way.
“Everyone is looking for the same traditional box to win the championship. It can be done in many different ways. Jimmy is a big guy, smart guy, killer,” Spoelstra said. “How would you like to describe it, who cares? He knows how to win, he knows how to help teams win, the game is played on both sides of the ground, it is played with IQ, it is played with strength, it is played with plays made in those winning moments. Not necessarily what everyone thinks…
“He’s just a winner, and he showed that tonight.”
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