The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 109-103 on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The Heat played the entire second half without superstar Jimmy Butler. He injured his right knee. The play that caused the injury was an aggressive swipe by the Celtics Payton Pritchard.
It looked very similar to what the Golden State Warriors Jordan Poole did to Memphis Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant last round. But the Pritchard-Butler incident has barely been talked about, unlike the noise surrounding Poole-Morant. Is this more Butler disrespect?
ESPN talked about the Poole play on Morant for decades, but I haven’t seen any mention of Pritchard yanking at Jimmy’s knee. pic.twitter.com/feydGGs9ND
— court corner (@courtcorner) May 22, 2022
Here’s what is interesting. The plays were similar in that the knees of both players were compromised by an aggressive play. The difference is, there was no way to tell if Poole was intentionally going after Morant’s knee. In that play the ball had been poked loose and Poole was trying to make a play on the ball on an aggressive trap.
Ja was frustrated after an apparent injury on this play.
Hope he's okay 🙏 pic.twitter.com/aXt1GNFkSQ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 8, 2022
In the Pritchard-Butler play, Pritchard was on the floor and had no chance of making a basketball play. Butler had possession and was driving to the lane. To prevent the drive Pritchard intentionally fouled Butler. He aggressively grabbed at the closest Butler limb.
That wasn’t a basketball play. Given that Butler re-injured his knee and was forced to miss the second half, that’s certainly grounds for discussion. But there has barely been a whisper about it.
Part of the reason is the Miami Heat and their culture. They are a physical, no-excuses, no-nonsense team. Head coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t going to go to the media and start playing mind games and talk about “breaking the code” the way Warriors head coach Steve Kerr did.
The other reason is Butler.
If that was any other veteran star player in this league there might be more of a discussion, possibly even talk of a Pritchard suspension. But Butler doesn’t command that type of discourse and he’s not an obvious superstar the way, say, Steph Curry is.
However, Butler is every bit as impactful and important to his team’s success.
The Heat guard/forward is second among all players remaining this postseason in scoring average. Only the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic scores more per game in these playoffs.
For the postseason Butler is averaging 28 points, seven rebounds, fives assists and two steals per game. He’s doing it on 57 eFG% and 63 TS% efficiency splits. That’s elite production. He’s also a menace defensively.
The Heat’s chances of winning an NBA title are obviously greater with Butler playing that type of two-way basketball. Spoelstra knows it, Butler knows it, and so do the Heat. But they all also know playing him compromised could be an issue.
“At halftime, really, the trainers made the call. Just feel like we’ve been in this situation a lot with a few of our guys,” said Spoelstra. “We almost have to restrain them. We get it, and we love it about them, how they are wired. But we also don’t want to be irresponsible.”
That’s Butler and that’s Heat culture. They don’t seek the fame, glory, and adulation. It’s about the work. This is a team full of grinders. The work is where they take pride. Their belief is if they do that right, all the other stuff will come.