MIAMI (AP) — These are Jimmy Butler’s three highest-scoring games in a Miami uniform: 40 points against Milwaukee, 40 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, 45 points against Atlanta. And those efforts have quite a bit in common.
He had at least 20 shot attempts and 12 free throws in each of those games.
The Heat won all three contests.
And all three happened in the playoffs.
Butler’s best Miami moments tend to come when it matters most — the postseason. His 45-point effort against the Hawks on Tuesday night gave top-seeded Miami a 2-0 series lead in their Eastern Conference first-round matchup that resumes on Friday in Atlanta. He said afterward that he simply took what the defense gave him. His teammates and coaches said it was far more impressive than that.
“Jimmy is a max guy, a go-guy, a killer,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “However you want to describe it, who cares? He knows how to win. He knows how to help teams win. The game is played on both sides of the floor. It’s played with IQ. It’s played with toughness. It’s played with making plays in those winning moments. It’s not necessarily what everybody thinks it is.”
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It wasn’t Bubble Jimmy, either. Butler himself shot down that comparison.
That moniker comes from when Butler was Miami’s best player at the NBA’s season-restart bubble at Walt Disney World two years ago, when he carried the Heat on an improbable run to the NBA Finals. He’s still Miami’s best player, but this is a new version, he insists.
“I’m a different player now then I was then and I’m OK with that,” Butler said. “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.”
The previous time a Heat player scored at least 45 points in a game, before Tuesday, was nearly eight years ago — May 12, 2014, when LeBron James scored a team playoff record 49 for Miami in a win at Brooklyn. The previous time it happened at home was March 3, 2014, when James put on a mask to protect a facial injury and scored a team regular-season record 61 for Miami in a win over Charlotte.
The Heat were the only team since James’ big playoff night against the Nets in 2014 that hadn’t had a player score 45 points in a game since. Butler changed that, emphatically, while sticking to his credo of just doing “whatever it takes to help this team win.”
Butler is unapologetically and manically driven, almost always grating on opponents and sometimes even grating on teammates — people are still talking about the dustup Butler had with Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem during an in-game huddle a month ago. But nights such as Tuesday remind the Heat of the level that Butler can reach at this time of year,