There’s been so much made of Jimmy Butler’s role and perceived lack of aggressiveness offensively.
And Butler did little to silence those critics through three quarters Tuesday night.
Then, with the Sixers clinging to a one-point lead late in the fourth, Butler did what he does. He hit two big fadeaways, made two huge defensive plays and set up a dagger three for Mike Scott in a 114-106 win over the Magic (see observations).
Brett Brown was reminded of a future Hall of Famer from this area by Butler’s clutch performance.
“It’s like years ago when the Lakers were my team [to scout with the Spurs], I used to see Kobe [Bryant] do that all the time,” Brown said.
It’s fair to say that Butler can have that “mamba mentality” to close out games like we saw in Brooklyn and Charlotte earlier this season. He has adopted a role as the team’s closer ever since he was acquired.
“I think I know when my number’s going to get called,” Butler said. “I’m cool with it. I understand my role. I just got to make shots late in the game. That’s why I’m here. I’m just happy that we can win.”
The difference between Butler and Bryant is that generally Bryant had that mindset through all four quarters, not just the fourth.
While it’s easy to say Butler is too passive early in games, part of that is just the way Butler is. He picks his spots and a lot of his early points are scored as the result of good offense from his teammates.
On Tuesday, scoring was not the issue for the Sixers in the first half as the team scored 70 points and shot 61 percent from the field.
“Jimmy went through the first half — he didn’t practice yesterday, he didn’t go through walkthrough today, I really wasn’t 100 percent certain he was going to play — and the gym was moving,” Brown said. “The ball was moving. People were scoring and he was a part of that.
“When it got to a stage of a game where we needed something a little different, a little more, there he was.”
That “something a little different” was Butler’s ability to score in isolation. For as great as Ben Simmons is, you can slow him down by clogging the paint. Same goes for Joel Embiid. Tobias Harris can excel at iso ball at times, but isn’t the playmaker Butler is.
With the way the Sixers were moving the ball in the first half — 18 assists on 27 makes — and the way they were getting baskets in transition, Butler wasn’t going to force the action.
He waited patiently, and when the time came, he answered the bell.
“I just play basketball the right way,” Butler said. “When I’m open, I shoot it. If I’m not, I pass it. As long as we win, I’m cool with it. I’m telling you, I’m not worried about nothing. We’ll just figure everything out when we get to these playoffs, clicking on all cylinders. To me, I think that’s where the real basketball starts.”
It’ll be nice for the Sixers to have a player like Butler when the real basketball does start.
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