Jimmy Butler provided a performance for the ages in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday night. With Miami on the brink of elimination against a surging Boston Celtics squad, Butler rebounded from a poor Game 5 performance.
Heat forward PJ Tucker said that he told Butler “We need 50 tonight.” Tucker says Butler just looked at him and nodded. “Say no more” was the battle cry and Butler led the charge with a Heat playoff record 47 points on 16-for-29 shooting. The two-way phenom also added some menacing defense with nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals in a 111-103 Miami Heat win to force a Game 7.
It seems as if the moment was destiny now, but entering Game 6 Butler had scored just 27 points in the previous three games and was battling an injury that limited him to 47 total minutes in Game 4 and 5.
JIMMY BUTLER AGAIN.
HEAT BY 6 WITH 39.5 LEFT. pic.twitter.com/bc3VqPYNyd
— NBA (@NBA) May 28, 2022
It was the type of clutch performance you get from superstar players. Butler has been putting the league on notice for years, even leading the Heat to the NBA Finals inside the Disney bubble in 2020 and establishing himself (or so he thought) among the upper echelon of franchise-caliber stars. He’s recognized as a star and one of the top players in the game, but there’s always some hesitance from the general public to boost him into the category with guys like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James, Giannis, Luka, Joker and the like.
Butler is a great player, but he’s a lunch pail guy. A throwback to the trash-talking, uber aggressive, laser-focused, alpha male oozing NBA days of yesteryear. He impacts the game on the level of most superstars, but doesn’t have the eye-popping offensive numbers, MVPs or mega endorsement deals those other elite ballers do. He’s not exactly humble, because he will flaunt his triumphs and shove it back up in his opponent’s face in the heat of the moment.
But when Jimmy talks, that’s actually a voice to listen to, because he usually can back it up. He gave you fair warning in October that the Heat was built for the long haul. Believe it or not, at the time the sheep and prisoners of the moment laughed at Butler and scoffed at the declaration as hyperbole. That’s back when LeBron’s Lakers, the Brooklyn Nets and Greek Freak’s Bucks were the toast of the NBA’s talking heads.
But he’s certainly not going to sing his own praises in interviews too much. He’s one of those show-and-prove kind of guys.
Within the industry of the NBA however, Butler is known as a “dog.” His clutch performances in these playoffs have once again proved that he’s a top 10 player in the NBA. If we’re talking about the playoffs, then he’s a top three player in Miami Heat history.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) May 28, 2022
You see the names Butler has surpassed and those basketball heads still on the fence concerning the former Marquette star’s greatness really have no leg of criticism to stand on.
At every stop, from Chicago to Minnesota to his brief stint in Philly and Miami, Butler has emerged as the emotional leader of the team and a go-to guy in crunch time. He just saves his best for the moments that matter. Butler’s career scoring average is 17.7 ppg. His career playoff average in 93 games started elevates to 19.9.
The huge scoring performances that others have during a regular season that doesn’t amount to much get them headlines and glory. The flair and young brashness of a Ja Morant. Joel Embiid’s excellence from the center position. Kyrie Irving’s vaccination stances and cryptic social media messages as the NBA’s self-proclaimed martyr. LeBron James’ assault on the all-time record books.
In a world where social media hype often determines the winners and losers, Butler doesn’t play to the crowd and stir up social media controversy in the face of adversity. He usually steps his game up, locks in and plays with a passion and purpose that few can equal.
If “locking in” on the moment was a tangible skill, Butler would probably be a top 2-3 in the league. The definition of gritty, Butler survived a knee injury in Game 3 that might have ended his series right then and there. Butler overcame that setback and is one win away from reaching his second NBA Finals with the Heat. It also helps to have past legends of the game who once walked in your shoes available to give championship advice if needed.
Butler isn’t one to rely on anyone else to handle his assignment, but he admits that having a D-Wade on speed dial to walk you off a ledge is an invaluable asset in moments like this, when Games 6 and 7 are essentially elimination games.
While many athletes depend on social media to create a legacy or maintain a certain narrative, Butler handles his own business, and what you see is what you get.
ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins was one of the only analysts to give Butler and the Heat a shot.
There’s no longer any line to teeter concerning Butler’s narrative. He’s “Jimmy Buckets,” aka “Big Game Jimmy,” and we ain’t talking 2K. Just check the résumé.