Jimmy Butler might not be the perfect fit for the Sixers, as many noted when he was acquired.
But on Saturday night, in the afterglow of Butler’s game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left in overtime, he felt as close to perfect as you can get for this Sixers team.
On the final possession of regulation, head coach Brett Brown cleared the floor out for Butler. His new star missed an open mid-range jumper.
On the final possession of overtime, Brown called the identical play.
Butler’s tightly contested jumper from the right wing gave the Sixers a 122-119 over the Hornets (see observations).
It doesn’t take much creativity to find a way to win,” Brown told reporters in Charlotte. “That’s what the great players can do and it’s what we spoke about with the inclusion of him, whether it’s the pick-and-roll, isolation, to create his own looks. That is a rare gift in the NBA, the players that can do that a high rate, and he’s one of them. And he’s ours. To see that happen, to see him be able to make amends for that shot he was disappointed he missed in regulation and to have the opportunity to back it up and deliver as he did, I think it’s a tremendous feel good story, and his teammates shared in that.
In Butler’s three games with the team, the Sixers are 2-1. Without Butler, there’s little doubt they’d be 0-3.
He shut down Donovan Mitchell Friday night, dished out seven assists and scored 28 points, including eight in a tight fourth quarter.
Saturday night felt like a different story for Butler, who shot just 4 for 11. He mostly looked out of sync with the Sixers’ offense, struggling to muster open looks and lingering in the background as Ben Simmons (23 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) and Joel Embiid (33 points, 11 rebounds) shined.
Butler was the primary defender on the electric Kemba Walker, who scored a career-high 60 points.
“In my head, as much as I wanted the shot to go in to win the game, I also wanted it to go in because I didn’t want Kemba to give me 70,” Butler said. “I just wanted it to stop at 60.”
In overtime, though, Butler showed exactly why the Sixers traded for him. Before Butler, the Sixers had gaping holes when it came to shot creation, shutdown perimeter defense and late-game scoring. With Butler, it appears those deficiencies no longer exist.
Butler didn’t resign himself to Walker having an unstoppable night, even after all the improbable shots Walker had made, including a three-pointer that kissed off the backboard and went in to give Charlotte a 108-107 lead with 44.5 seconds left in regulation.
On Charlotte’s final possession of overtime, Butler swatted Walker’s shot, then leaped up to grab the ball and toss it over his head to save it from going out of bounds.
“I stayed in the game,” Butler said. “Guys are going to score the ball and if they’re feeling it, they’re going to score it at a high rate. My job is to make everything tough for him. I think I did that on a lot of plays. Let up on a couple, don’t get me wrong. But in the end, got a piece of the ball. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw [Wilson Chandler] right there. Throw the ball back to him, take off the other way.”
The Sixers called timeout, and everyone knew who was getting the ball. After Butler’s miss at the end of the fourth, JJ Redick approached Butler before the final play of overtime.
“He was kind of in his own little world,” Redick said, “and I just said, ‘I bet you won’t call game.’ He said, ‘Huh?’ I said, ‘I bet you won’t call game.’ And he said, ‘Bet.’ So we had a fun little moment after he hit that shot.”
While Butler does erase many of the Sixers’ previous weaknesses, he doesn’t solve everything. The Sixers continue to blow sizable leads — Saturday night was the third straight game they’ve squandered a lead of at least 16 points. And the bench still looks like it could use another piece or two.
Butler is the kind of player who can make those concerns feel irrelevant. At the end of overtime, all that mattered was the Sixers could give the ball to Butler and let him do what he does.
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