Some players just have an uncanny knack for showing up in the biggest of situations.
There’s something innate in them that goes off and lets them know when it’s time to make a play.
Jimmy Butler has that in spades and it’s a big reason why he’s the perfect player to lead the Sixers into Game 7 in Toronto Sunday night.
Butler was sensational yet again Thursday night, helping keep the Sixers’ season alive in a convincing 112-101 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
He understood the moment and seized it.
“The way he started, even the way he ended the first half, he just stamped his authority and his skill package and his will — pick whatever words you want — he was all over that game,” Brett Brown said. “The mood in the locker room as we went through sort of an early shootaround before, you could sense the serious side. They got the moment. And I think he got it as much as anybody, and led us. He was a tremendous leader and his performance mirrored his attitude.”
The way he ended the second quarter may have taken the Raptors’ hearts.
With less than 12 second left, Butler drove to the paint and had an athletic finish over Pascal Siakam. Siakam took the ball past half court with time winding down in the half and got it to superhuman Kawhi Leonard. Butler took a gamble, as he’s one to do, stripping Leonard from behind and finishing with a layup at the other end with just 0.4 seconds left.
It sent the Sixers to the locker room with a 15-point lead. Butler incited the crowd, raising his arms for them to be louder. They responded in kind with chants of “Jim-my But-ler” as they did throughout the game.
Butler always talks about simplifying things. That way of thinking seems to be a big part of why he’s able to come through in big moments.
“I just came out aggressive, as they tell me to be all the time,” Butler said. “The game is simple. I shoot the ball when I’m open, sometimes I shoot it when I’m not open and I try to get out in transition, get some steals, get some rebounds and take off. That’s just how the game went for us tonight. Home crowd, crowd was great, no boos … they booed us a little bit, we appreciate it, but all in all they were really into the game.”
The boobirds that came out midway through the second quarter were a distant memory by the time this one was over.
Butler had done his job both with his performance on the court and his emerging leadership. He’s transformed his game to whatever the Sixers need and the results speak for themselves.
“I’m just hoopin’” Butler said. “I’m doing what they ask me to do. I play to win. I think right now this is what I have to do in order to give us a great chance of winning. I think game to game, hell, from series to series, the role could change. I’m cool with it. Like I always say, I just want to win. If we win, I’m good. If we don’t, then I got a problem.”
Elton Brand has been adamant since he traded for Butler that he didn’t view it as a rental. Butler has held up his end of the bargain, willing the Sixers to a Game 7 in the second round.
Is this what a max-contract player looks like?
“I’m not going to comment on the contract, what I can comment on clearly and easily is there is an adult in the room when he’s on the court,” Brown said. “The athletic plays that he makes, the physical plays that he makes — he’s a tank. He’s so strong. When he has that sort of laser focus and you’ve got that body to back it up, incredible things happen offensively and defensively. Then you drip feed in, he’s got that mind, that sort of attitude, that’s a hell of a package.
“Translate whatever that means from a contract standpoint, from a head coach’s standpoint, I go to all those things — leadership, skill and so on — and there was just an adult in the room in a Game 6 closeout game that has allowed us to go play and have an amazing experience. I’ve been fortunate to be in a few Game 7s and they’re very unique. They’re special. They are a life lesson, a life opportunity. And [Butler] sure allowed us to better achieve that.”
And he may be the reason the Sixers’ season extends beyond Sunday night.
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