Sometimes the numbers lie.
Or they don’t tell the whole truth.
The analytics say you don’t want a player who’s shooting 24 percent from the 3-point line to keep firing away from deep to close out a playoff game.
Jimmy Butler doesn’t give a … well, let’s just say he’s not interested in what you or your numbers say.
So when he saw an opportunity to put the Indiana Pacers away down the stretch Tuesday, he rose up twice, on back-to-back possessions, and drained backbreaking 3s to provide the separation the Heat needed in their 113-101 Game 1 win over the Pacers.
“I take what the game gives me a majority of the time,”Butler said. “Sometimes I’ll force it and take some bad shots. But in the end, my teammates and my coach was like, ‘Don’t lose this game. Win it for us.’ And that’s what I was thinking: make the right play. And on those two possessions, it was a pull up 3.”
That’s the beauty of Butler’s game, and more importantly Butler’s attitude. He doesn’t mind going against the grain, no matter how crazy it might look to someone else. It’s an attitude that hasn’t always served him well in previous stops, where his competitive nature was misinterpreted as something else.
But it’s worked all season in Miami, with a Heat team that needed an agitator and leader, someone willing to step into that space Butler has occupied all season, and certainly since the Heat showed up in Orlando for the restart of this NBA season.
Butler said he’s not interested in fraternizing with anyone outside of the Heat camp at Walt Disney World, not with designs on “winning it all,” as he declared in an ESPN interview last week.
That fearlessness fueled the Heat’s fire in Game 1. That’s exactly the way the Heat like it.
“He’s willing to put himself out there. Make or miss, he wants the responsibility,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “That’s obviously why we sought him out so fervently (in free agency last summer).”
It’s also why his teammates had no doubt that he’d come through the way he did with the game on the line, never mind what the numbers said.
“I yell at him all the time to shoot the ball,” Heat All-Star big man Bam Adebayo said. “Like, ‘Shoot the ball, shoot the ball.’ And tonight it just clicked, where he listened to me. And made two big 3s. You know, I’m proud of him. And we need him to keep that same fire and desire in his eyes the he had today and just keep going.”
No one has to worry about Butler’s motor. He finds motivation in every slight, perceived and otherwise. And as long as Indiana’s T.J. Warren is on the other side, that shouldn’t be a problem in this series.
Butler took the challenge on both ends, rekindling their rivalry while maintaining his focus and composure when it mattered most. He finished with a game-high 28 points and that perfect 2-for-2 effort from beyond the 3-point line.
“He’s the head of the snake over there,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said of Butler. “He runs that team offensively, does a god job of initiating the offense, setting guys up as well as scoring. Tonight we did a pretty good job on their other guys and he started scoring. He draws the assignment of defending your best guy and he was on Warren tonight. He established how they play over there.”
Butler didn’t have to do the heavy lifting alone. Not with veteran point guard Goran Dragic taking his turns making plays during a critical 22-8 fourth quarter blitz, when the Pacers simply couldn’t match the Heat veterans’ clutch playmaking.
Dragic piloted the offense brilliantly in place of rookie starter Kendrick Nunn, who was healthy and available but did not play. He scored 21 of his 24 points in the second half, 14 in the fourth quarter, as the Heat committed just one turnover after halftime.
But this Heat crew, playing its first playoff game together, looked extremely comfortable in the roles they’ll be asked to play. Butler and Adebayo (17 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks) looked like All-Stars. Dragic was every bit the seasoned vet he is and even rookie Tyler Herro popped (15 points, 4 assists) in his postseason debut.
“I love it,” Butler said. “Goran was stinky in the first half, too. He admitted it to me. But he came out in the second half killing, being the Dragon (Dragic’s nickname) we need him to be. Tyler has been phenomenal all year long. And we all know what Bam brings to the table. I’ve said this over and over again, Bam is the heart and soul behind this team. When he’s playing at a high level, it’s going to be tough for anybody to beat us.”
The same could be said about Butler, especially on Tuesday.
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