Jimmy Butler’s game has come a long way since he led the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers. The image of him dead tired and leaning over a baseline barricade will perhaps be the signature image of Butler’s career whenever he decides to hang it up and call it a career.
Last season, the Heat could not recreate that magic from their Orlando Bubble and fell to the eventual champion Miluwake Bucks in a first-round sweep. The playoff failure led to the Miami office bringing in Kyle Lowry to relieve Butler of playmaking duties. That change led to the Heat earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference after going 53-29 in the regular season.
Since he doesn’t have to be as ball-dominant as he was during the bubble, Butler has been able to focus more on getting buckets, which led to Butler being able to score 45 points in a 115-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks to grab a 2-0 lead as the first-round series shifts to Atlanta. A personal 7-0 run punctuated the primetime performance in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter to increase Miami’s lead from three to 10 to cement the Heat’s win.
“I am a different player now than I was then,” Butler said per ESPN. “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.”
Butler’s big-time outing arrived on the strength of some hot shooting. Butler finished the game shooting 15-25 from the field, 11-12 from the free-throw line, and hit 4-7 three-pointers as well. During the regular season, Butler shot 23.3 percent on triples; Jimmy G. Buckets is a career 32.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Erik Spoelstra, head coach of Miami, said that Butler’s shooting from outside reminded him of the exploits of franchise legends Dwyane Wade. Wade, James, and Butler are the only Heat players to finish a playoff game with 40-points three times.
“It actually is a good comparison because if you get in those pressure moments and the moments of truth, if you’re on the other side, would you ever want to just give Dwyane Wade an open 3? You would not,” Spoelstra said. “Because he’s a killer. He’s going to seize that moment. And Jimmy has a lot of those same qualities. You can say whatever the percentage is — throw those all out when it becomes about winning. He’ll find a way to kill you.”
The Heat-Hawks first-round series resumes on Friday in Atlanta.