Bubble Jimmy, or a new version, back at right time for Heat

Apr 19, 2022, 7:36 PM | Updated: Apr 20, 2022, 7:39 am
Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler walks off the court during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA bask...

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler walks off the court during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Miami. The Heat won 115-105. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI (AP) — These are Jimmy Butler’s three highest-scoring games in a Miami uniform: 40 points against Milwaukee, 40 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, 45 points against Atlanta. And those efforts have quite a bit in common.

He had at least 20 shot attempts and 12 free throws in each of those games.

The Heat won all three contests.

And all three happened in the playoffs.

Butler’s best Miami moments tend to come when it matters most — the postseason. His 45-point effort against the Hawks on Tuesday night gave top-seeded Miami a 2-0 series lead in their Eastern Conference first-round matchup that resumes on Friday in Atlanta. He said afterward that he simply took what the defense gave him. His teammates and coaches said it was far more impressive than that.

“Jimmy is a max guy, a go-guy, a killer,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “However you want to describe it, who cares? He knows how to win. He knows how to help teams win. The game is played on both sides of the floor. It’s played with IQ. It’s played with toughness. It’s played with making plays in those winning moments. It’s not necessarily what everybody thinks it is.”

It wasn’t Bubble Jimmy, either. Butler himself shot down that comparison.

That moniker comes from when Butler was Miami’s best player at the NBA’s season-restart bubble at Walt Disney World two years ago, when he carried the Heat on an improbable run to the NBA Finals. He’s still Miami’s best player, but this is a new version, he insists.

“I’m a different player now then I was then and I’m OK with that,” Butler said. “I just always want to play basketball the right way and do whatever it takes to help this team, this organization win. That’s why they brought me here.”

The previous time a Heat player scored at least 45 points in a game, before Tuesday, was nearly eight years ago — May 12, 2014, when LeBron James scored a team playoff record 49 for Miami in a win at Brooklyn. The previous time it happened at home was March 3, 2014, when James put on a mask to protect a facial injury and scored a team regular-season record 61 for Miami in a win over Charlotte.

The Heat were the only team since James’ big playoff night against the Nets in 2014 that hadn’t had a player score 45 points in a game since. Butler changed that, emphatically, while sticking to his credo of just doing “whatever it takes to help this team win.”

Butler is unapologetically and manically driven, almost always grating on opponents and sometimes even grating on teammates — people are still talking about the dustup Butler had with Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem during an in-game huddle a month ago. But nights such as Tuesday remind the Heat of the level that Butler can reach at this time of year, when a championship is all that matters.

“I think you have to have that dark side, kind of that demeanor that you need to push other people to be better,” Heat point guard Kyle Lowry said. “But you also have to have the talent and work ethic to do it, right? You can talk about it, but if you’re not about it and you don’t show it, it’s different. He shows it. He shows it when he plays, he shows it when he comes to work. He’s always here. He’s on time and ready to do his thing and go out there and go to battle.”

Butler’s statistical averages through the first two games of this playoff run for the top-seeded Heat: 33 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, on 60% shooting from the field and — most surprisingly — 56% from the 3-point line, an area that hasn’t exactly been a strength of his throughout this season. He’s gotten to the foul line more than any three of his Heat teammates have combined in the series, plus has committed only two fouls in 72 minutes of play.

Again, though, he insists that this isn’t Bubble Jimmy.

“We’re a different team and I’m a different player,” Butler said. “We’re better this way.”

There is a work-life balance, even at this time of year for Butler.

After Miami’s Game 1 win on Sunday afternoon, Butler talked about getting out of the arena quickly to spend time with his daughter before she went to sleep that night. Then, and only then, would he turn his attention toward Game 2. And in the hours before Game 2, he had his non-basketball habits as well. He listened to the Backstreet Boys. (“I’m a huge fan,” Butler said.) He had lots of his BigFace brand of coffee. (“Need it,” he said.) He played spades for a while. (“Rituals,” he said.)

Then he showed up at the arena and dropped 45 on the Hawks, going on a personal 7-0 run in the final moments to clinch the win.

Bubble Jimmy, Playoff Jimmy, whoever it was, the Heat just hope to see a lot more of him over the next few weeks.

“A guy like Jimmy, he can play defense, he can play offense,” Lowry said. “He hasn’t had an opportunity to get to his championship yet, but that’s the goal. His ultimate goal is to win a championship and I think he will do whatever it takes and be whatever type of player he needs to be to get that.”


More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bump & Stacy Show


FILE - Bruce Isackson departs federal court, April 3, 2019, in Boston after facing charges in a nat...
Associated Press

Ex-USC coach, couple avoid prison time in college scandal

BOSTON (AP) — A former assistant soccer coach at the University of Southern California who created fake athletic profiles for the children of wealthy parents in the sprawling college admissions bribery scheme avoided prison time Tuesday after helping convict others in the case. Laura Janke, who helped the mastermind of the scheme get students into […]
14 hours ago
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks during a news conference before the start of the Travelers...
Associated Press

New alliance gives 10 European tour players PGA Tour cards

The PGA Tour is awarding 10 cards to European tour players and bringing back a direct path to the big leagues from Q-school as part of an expanded partnership with Europe that aims to strengthen themselves against the Saudi-funded LIV Golf. The joint venture with Europe is a 13-year deal that goes through 2035, and […]
14 hours ago
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson lifts the Stanley Cup after the team defeated the Tampa ...
Associated Press

Mile High magic: Avs add to Denver’s title town run on ice

DENVER (AP) — How’s this for a hat trick: The Mile High City is now home to the Stanley Cup, NCAA and national high school hockey champions. There must be something in the (frozen) water around Denver, right? “More the elevation than the water,” cracked University of Denver coach David Carle, whose program won its […]
14 hours ago
Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, right, reacts towards San Diego Padres' Blake Snell after bein...
Associated Press

Harper set for thumb surgery, Phils hope he plays this year

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Phillies slugger Bryce Harper will have surgery Wednesday to repair his broken left thumb and the team hopes the 2021 NL MVP can play again this season. Manager Rob Thomson did not offer a timetable for Harper’s return. “It’s tough, but it’s probably the best thing for him. So whatever’s best for […]
14 hours ago
Cleveland Guardians' Amed Rosario scores behind Minnesota Twins catcher Gary Sanchez on a double by...
Associated Press

Guardians end skid, rally past Twins in day-night DH opener

CLEVELAND (AP) — Amed Rosario’s clutch two-run single in the eighth inning rallied Cleveland to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins in the first game of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday, snapping the Guardians’ five-game losing streak. Down 2-1 and in danger of dropping four games behind the Twins in the AL Central, the Guardians […]
14 hours ago
FILE - Former San Antonio Spurs summer league head coach Will Hardy looks on during the second half...
Associated Press

AP source: Celtics’ Hardy accepts offer to become Jazz coach

Boston Celtics assistant Will Hardy has accepted an offer to become the coach of the Utah Jazz, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said Tuesday. Hardy and the Jazz were in the process of finalizing contract language, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side […]
14 hours ago
Bubble Jimmy, or a new version, back at right time for Heat