When news broke of Jimmy Butler being traded to the Sixers, I asked Wilson Chandler what kind of gaps Butler was going to fill, once the trade became official. He immediately went to late-game situations. “He’s a guy that’s hit game-winning shots,” Chandler said. At the time, I was thinking, yeah, great, he’s hit game-winning shots, but how often do those situations arise?
Turns out, pretty often.
Butler has now played seven games for the Sixers, and he has hit the game-winning shot with less than a second to play in two of them. First, he did it against the Hornets to spoil Kemba Walker’s 60-point outing, and then on Sunday night, he did it to the Nets with another step-back three with 0.4 seconds remaining to send the Sixers to a 127-125 win. Here she be:
This is just a through-the-heart dagger. The Nets had hit multiple potential game-winners on their end in the final minutes — a Joe Harris three, then a Spencer Dinwiddie mid-ranger. But Butler was not to be topped. If you’re Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, you are fine with Butler taking that shot in that situation. It’s not how most teams would draw it up. In these last-second situations, the conventional thinking is to get something going toward the basket, put the onus on the refs, force the action. If that shot doesn’t go in, you’re going to have all kinds of “experts” talking about how Butler “settled.”
But it’s a make-or-miss league.
And it did go in.
It was nearly identical to the one he hit against Charlotte:
For my money, I’m OK with these shots, and not just because they went in. I’ve seen too many guys over-force the action in these situations and rely on getting a whistle, only to not get a call and end up with a much tougher shot in traffic. When you do what Butler has now done twice, bleed the clock down and go one-on-one in space, you know you are at least going to get a clean look. That’s really all you can ask for. In these situations, Butler is proving to have a knack for the big shot, so make sure he gets the opportunity to take it and live with the results. Kudos to Brett Brown for not over-complicating this.
The Sixers are now 5-2 with Butler on board, and though game-winning shots are the extreme example, they clearly have the end-of-game piece they were missing. Players, coaches and scouts I’ve talked to have all said the same thing: Philly needed this. It needed a player who could create his own shot, particularly in fourth-quarter and late-game situations. Butler had 18 fourth-quarter points Sunday on 7-of-7 shooting, including 4 of 4 from three.
Seriously, you want to ingratiate yourself with a fan base? How about that kind of money-time stat line and a couple game-winners? Brown has made reference to Butler and the city of Philadelphia being tough-guy mirrors of one another. Allen Iverson has all but called Butler the savior. Just sign the long-term deal already. The marriage is all bliss.
Now, bigger picture, Butler is camouflaging some stuff here. The Sixers probably shouldn’t be needing last-second shots to beat the Nets and the Hornets, no disrespect to either team, as they’re both better than a lot of people thought they would be. Still, Butler’s five wins in a Philly uniform have come by a combined 17 points. They beat the Pelicans by one. The Nets by two. The Hornets by three. The Suns by five. Philly needs more shooting and can probably find it on the buyout market, and the defensive effort/execution has to be more consistent. But Joel Embiid has been spectacular. Ben Simmons is finding his way alongside Butler and in a more off-ball role. The principle parts are coming together, and winning always makes these transitions easier. Plain and simple: The Sixers have a better chance of winning every night with Butler on their side.
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