Jimmy Butler Has a Whole Kennel of Dawg In Him

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Jimmy Butler Has a Whole Kennel of Dawg In Him

Photograph: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte
The Miami Heat’s postseason conqueror did it again.

Jimmy Butler snatched the Bucks’ soul. Game 5 of his Miami Heat’s first-round playoff series the team to Milwaukee, where the Bucks were supposed to win this series, and this game: They entered the fourth quarter up by 16 points. But Butler saw an opportunity to singlehandedly break the spirit of an entire team, and he did not relent. In that turning-point fourth quarter, as Milwaukee scored just 16 points, Butler had 14 all by himself, including the most memorable shot of the playoffs so far, a tumbling fadeaway at the rim to send things to overtime. To use the parlance of our time, he is no longer just Jimmy, he is Himmy Butler.

With due respect to other playoff standouts like Jalen Brunson, Devin Booker, and LeBron—all of whom possess the canine—this is not a simple case of someone having that dawg in him. With Butler, it’s a whole pack of rabid hyenas, each one feasting on a different part of the opponent’s carcass.

The game-tying fadeaway. 

Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

The man is a certified playoff killer, the type to make fans think he’s coasting through the regular season, only to turn it up seven or eight notches when the playoffs roll around. Butler finished Wednesday’s decisive Game 5 with 42 points. In his previous six playoff games—dating back to last year’s Eastern Conference Final against the Celtics—he’s put up 56, 30, 25, 35, 35, and 47. His lowest shooting percentage from any of those games was 51.5%, which came on Wednesday, a ho-hum demolition of the 2021 champs who were the betting favorites to bring it home again this year.

Putting Playoff Jimmy in the proper context risks hyperbole. Is it wrong to think that what we’re seeing right now is on par with Michael Jordan? Normally that sort of thing would be blasphemous, but it seems like the only comparison that does Butler his true justice. Jordan’s 63 points in 1986 is still the individual playoff record for points in a game, but Butler’s 56 from Monday night puts him close to that same tier. Plus, Jordan had the benefit of double overtime in his game and, sorry Mike, the 63-point explosion came in a loss.

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison: Butler is certainly not the best player in the league, like Jordan was, and the Heat are more “happy to be here” than they are true championship threat. But it’s very MJ to single-handedly take over a game. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra reportedly wanted to draw up the final play in regulation for someone other than Butler, resulting in a very Jordan-like response from the Heat’s playoff necromancer. “He looked me dead in the eye and he just said, ‘No. Let me be that guy,” Spoelstra recounted after the game.

“My teammates, they need me to be that way right now,” Butler said in his walk off interview after vanquishing the Bucks, who had the league’s best regular-season record. “I will continue to be that way right now. Whatever it takes to win. It could be 40 [points], it could be 50, it could be zero and 12 assists. I gotta be able to do it all.”

The Heat became just the sixth eighth-seed to ever knock off a number one, and Butler now has eight 40-point playoff games in a Heat uniform, more than Dwyane Wade, more than Shaq, more than anyone to ever play for Miami. When compiling the “I’m him” rankings for this year’s postseason, that flings Butler directly to the top. Miami’s basketball team prides itself on blue-collar tenacity, a wholehearted commitment to winning, and a tireless work ethic. As the Heat’s resident OG Udonis Haslem told us, “Heat Culture ain’t for everybody. There’s guys that have been here that have hated this shit.”

But sometimes, in life as in sports, you find a perfect match. Butler’s ruthless style of play is a hand-in-glove fit for Heat Culture. He’s the exact type of guy who can be trusted to convert a high-degree-of-difficulty lob at the rim (on the road, no less) with the game on the line. It is both breathtaking and low-key terrifying to watch. But if you’ve been paying attention, and seen the dawg within Butler grow from high-octane puppy into growling behemoth, it’s not exactly surprising either.

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