Jimmy Butler’s Game 7 miss crashes Heat storybook run he was writing
MIAMI — Every player’s intention as the ball leaves their fingers, heads for the rim, is for it to cross the iron peacefully and dive straight, like a fallen boulder 10 stories high, through the net and onto hardwood.
But that shot, that shot of Jimmy Butler, really, it was supposed go in.
In an NBA Playoff that belonged to Butler, an Eastern Conference Finals that belonged to Butler, a Game 7 that belonged to Butler. In his home arena. His team about to complete a frenzied comeback.
It’s the kind of clichés that happen, especially in Miami. The shooter comes to a pose, his right hand extended in the air, the wrist held in a bent position, the fingers pointing perhaps down, or to the edge, or perhaps squirming.
There were 16.6 seconds left. The Heat trailed by two. Yes, it was time. He could have dribbled closer. Or passed to a teammate. But he had the ball in his hands, he was pushing it on the floor, and standing between him and the basket was Al Horford, who was never going to meet him in time on the 3-point line.
It was the hit. He pulls it off, like he had so many other shots in this series, and maybe Miami is heading to the finale.
“Not yet,” thought Boston’s Marcus Smart as the ball left Butler’s hand.
Butler’s best intention didn’t come true. The ball did not cross the edge, but crashed into it. To borrow a phrase from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, when a season like this ends like this, it “ends with a thud.”
There was no justice on Sunday in this series of poems for Butler.
“My thought process was to go for the win, which I did,” he said. “I missed a shot. But I take this hit. My teammates liked the shot I took. So I live with it. »
“Man, Jimmy played well, so when he stopped, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, man,'” Smart added. “I just hope he doesn’t make it.”
The Boston Celtics, not Butler’s Heat, are in the Finals because Boston won that game 100-96. Butler was the top scorer on either side with 35 points on 13 of 24 shooting. He got to the line 11 times and connected on eight free throws. For good measure, he grabbed nine rebounds and played every second of the 48-minute game.
Butler averaged 25.6 points in the Conference Finals and 27.4 points in the playoffs. He had three of the four highest-scoring games by any player on either team, starting, of course, with his only 47 points in his lifetime in Game 6 at Boston. It’ll be a little less memorable now that the Heat haven’t finished that streak and reached the Finals.
Butler has hit 40 points four times this postseason, the most in Heat history, not bad considering LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade have played and won titles here.
“I thought it would have been an amazing story for Jimmy to stop and hit that 3,” Spoelstra said. “I like that about Jimmy. It was the right look, and I just thought as I left his hand I thought for sure he was going down. It was a good clean look, definitely better than anything we could have imagined.
“It’s a shame it didn’t end like this.”
In Butler’s mind, the Heat lost this series because of him. Not because of the one shot he missed at the end of Game 7, but because of the shots he missed midway through the series.
The Heat were on their way to a 2-1 series lead — and they got there — but Butler didn’t come out for the second half of Game 3 due to right knee irritation. It was something he had faced for at least the entire playoffs. He played Games 4 and 5, two resounding losses for Miami, and didn’t look the part. He shot 10 of 35 in Games 3-5, barely reached the free throw line, and otherwise gave up the reins of the series. He took them back in Game 6, but in his opinion, it was already too late.
“In my book, I just think I can’t have bad games,” Butler said. “I played like trash in a couple. I think that was the show.
“I didn’t do my job. Statistics mean nothing, as I say over and over again. The Boston Celtics did what they came here to do in this series. I learned that I have to be better, and I will be better.
If you weren’t in the room, hadn’t watched the interview on YouTube or your favorite social network, those words might sound like he was implying that he had to do everything for the Heat to win. . That’s not what he was saying, although what it looked like on the pitch seemed to back it up at times.
There was only one other player, Bam Adebayo, who averaged in double figures for the series. Kyle Lowry, one of Butler’s closest friends, was robbed of a true playoff with a recalcitrant hamstring and was brutal in the conference finals through Game 6. Lowry scored 15 points in Game 7 but shot 4 of 12. Tyler Herro, Miami’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, was OK in the playoffs but was eliminated from the Conference Finals with an injury to groin in Game 3. He made an appearance in Game 7 and did not score. PJ Tucker barely played in the second half of Game 7. Although no reason was given, he struggled with a knee bruise for most of this series.
The Heat’s third-leading scorer in the Conference Finals, Victor Oladipo, is likely headed for free agency and a spot in some teams’ starting lineup unless Spoelstra and Pat Riley change everything and make room at Oladipo in Miami’s starting five.
The player spot he would take, two guards Max Strus, took the place of Duncan Robinson, who has a five-year, $90 million contract. Strus picked the worst time to embark on a chilling shoot – the conference finals. Robinson didn’t play in Game 7 and was only able to nibble on rotation sides for most of the playoffs.
“I think we’ve had enough — I think we’ve had enough,” Butler said. “It sucks because you don’t know who’s going to be on the roster in any given year, you know what I mean?
“We’ve had enough. Next year we will have had enough and we will find ourselves in the same situation, and we will make it.
Lowry, seated next to Butler as he spoke, nodded when Butler said that. The Heat plan to be back next year.
Those plans, unfortunately, were made ahead of schedule – because the shot that was supposed to go in didn’t.
(Top photo of Jimmy Butler’s latest snap: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)