MIAMI — The vision of Jimmy Butler collapsing on a base barricade in the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble has been painted into the tapestry of the league’s collective consciousness. In that series, the Miami Heat star took on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, making 35- and 40-point triple-doubles while pushing LA to the brink.
The butler who scored a career-best 45 playoff points in the Heat’s 115-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday to go 2-0 in their first-round series, changed, he said. he says, since that defining race.
“I’m a different player now than I was then,” Butler said after a personal 7-0 run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of Game 2 extended Miami’s lead from three to 10. to ensure victory. “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 less than two league title wins in the bubble, but Miami then fell to eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks during from a first-round sweep last year.
His transformation was sparked by the addition of Kyle Lowry, who brought his championship experience with him when he left the Toronto Raptors to sign with the Heat last summer.
“I’m not as dominant as I was in the bubble,” Butler said. “We have a playmaker, and that’s Kyle, and I love that he’s a playmaker.
“I can 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 he was in the regular season, when he shot just 23.3 percent from 3-pointers. Butler has gone 4 for 7 since the start of Game 2, while Atlanta shooter Trae Young has shot 2 for 10 of 3, bringing his streak total to just 2 for 17.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra says Butler’s sudden outburst from the outside reminds him of the only other player besides James in team history to tie Butler’s three 40-point playoff games for the franchise: Dwyane Wade.
“It’s actually a good comparison, because if you go into those moments of pressure and the moments of truth, if you’re on the other side, would you ever want to give Dwyane Wade an open 3? You don’t wouldn’t,” Spoelstra mentioned. “Because he’s a killer. He’s going to seize this moment. And Jimmy has a lot of those same qualities. You can tell whatever the percentage is – throw them all away when it comes to winning. He’ll find a way to kill you.”
He alone will do it in his own way. On Tuesday afternoon, Butler passed the time before the whistleblower by sharing on his Instagram story that he was listening to “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and playing the card game Spades.
“They also booed their tails,” Butler said of the card game. “I’m a huge Backstreet Boys fan and love to compete in anything.”
Lowry said Butler’s fun ways are only part of the equation.
“I think you have to have that dark side and that kind of behavior to push other people to be better,” he said of Butler. “But you also have to have the talent and the work ethic to do it. You can talk about it, but if you’re not about it and you don’t show it, that’s a difference. And he does. watch.”
Butler went 15-for-25 from the field in Game 2 — joining Wade and James as the only Heat players with that many shots on the field in a playoff game — and was 11-for-12 from the foul line. He had zero turnovers and zero fouls to go with his 45 points, becoming the first player since Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins in 1988 to post a postseason stat line like that.
And Butler had two steals, one of them on an errant pass from Young to give the Hawks guard 10 turnovers for the game – a record for a Heat playoff opponent.
“Just as impressive as his attack, he did incredible things defensively,” Spoelstra said.
The butler of old took the Heat over the precipice of a champagne party, only to narrowly fail. His coach says the player at the helm of the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 team this season is built to go all the way.
“Everyone is looking for the same conventional box to win a championship. It can be done in different ways. Jimmy is a max guy, a go-to guy, a killer,” Spoelstra said. “As you want to describe it, who cares? He knows how to win, he knows how to help teams win, and the game is played on both sides of the pitch, and it’s played with IQ, it’s played with tenacity , it’s about making plays in those winning moments. It’s not necessarily what everyone thinks it is. …
“He’s just a winner, and he showed that tonight.”