When the Clippers’ starting small forward fractured the fifth metacarpal bone in his left hand Monday night in Memphis, it was widely assumed that Butler would miss a majority of the postseason, given that his timetable for recovery was listed as 4-6 weeks. He watched in street clothes in the fourth quarter as the Clippers overcame his absence to come back from 27 points down in Game 1 and did the same for the Game 2 loss.
Then on Friday Butler practiced.
“He is crazy,” Chris Paul said. “Seriously.”
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"He went through some stuff yesterday but hopefully, when he gets out there, the adrenaline will kick in," Del Negro said before the game.
Butler went to work with a thick black protective brace on his non-shooting hand, his last two fingers tied together. He appeared mostly unhindered by the large contraption, chasing after loose balls with his off arm and even grabbing a couple of rebounds.
Of major concern was Butler's ability to catch and shoot the ball quickly. Butler's role has changed over his career, to the point where this season he's been primarily a spot-up shooter for the Clippers. He attempted a career-high 4.1 threes per game this season, hitting them at a 35.8% clip.
Saturday, he hit a couple of rhythm jumpers and finished 2-of-7 for four points. But his stat line, to his teammates, was of no importance.
It's not the first time that Butler has been faced with watching postseason games from the bench. Last season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Butler watched a championship run from the sideline while rehabbing a torn patellar tendon he suffered January 1, 2011. He was omnipresent in pregame warmups and said he was just weeks away from being back in playing shape when the Mavericks lifted the trophy.
Though he didn't get to play, everything he gleaned from his first career NBA title was passed on to his new Clipper teammates this season.
"I’ve talked to him a lot about the run that the Mavericks had last year, even though he wasn’t playing he was around and saw everything that was going down," Griffin said. "That little insight that he’s had has been helpful for a lot of our young guys, myself included."
Butler received a rousing ovation in his February return to Dallas, when he was presented with his championship ring. His toughness was not lost on former coach Rick Carlisle, who remembered Butler shifting his own kneecap back into place when he suffered his season-ending knee injury in what would be his final game as a Maverick.
Saturday, Butler added another chapter into "Tuff Juice" lore.
"That’s one thing coach said before the game: if he can fight -- with pretty much a broken hand – what can the rest of us do?" Paul said.
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