Jimmy Butler is familiar with the moniker. During his postgame press conference Monday night, he grinned and shook his head at the notion of the nickname “Playoff Jimmy.”
“It’s not a thing,” he laughed after the Miami Heat defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 119-114 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. “No, it isn’t. I’m simply hooping.”
Nonetheless, Butler’s 56-point performance makes it tough to dismiss his postseason greatness. Butler equaled the fourth-highest scoring performance in an NBA playoff game, leading the Heat back from a 14-point fourth-quarter hole to surprise the Bucks and put the NBA’s top overall seed to the brink of elimination.
Butler’s 50-point effort in Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals gave the Heat a 3-1 series lead. Butler established a career best in scoring in the regular season or playoffs and scored the first 50-point playoff game since Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals.
“I love the competitive aspect of [the playoffs],” Butler says. “This is where all of the best players show up and show out.” “I’m not claiming to be one of the best players; I simply want to be regarded as such.”I want to do all I can to help my team win, as does everyone else on our squad. I believe [club president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra] brought me here for a specific purpose. I believe this is one of the reasons.”
Butler may not want to embrace the moniker, but he has continued to improve his game in the playoffs. After averaging 22.9 points per game throughout the regular season, he is currently the NBA’s best scorer in the playoffs, averaging 36.5 points per game.
Butler shot 19-of-28 from the floor (3-of-8 on threes) and 15-of-18 from the free throw line on Monday, adding nine rebounds.
Only Michael Jordan scored 63 points in a playoff game in 1986, Elgin Baylor scored 61 points in 1962, and Donovan Mitchell scored 57 points in 2020. Butler equaled Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Charles Barkley for fourth place with 56 points.
The Heat trailed the Bucks 101-89 with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter before outscoring them 30-13 the rest of the way. Miami went 8-for-9 from there, with Butler scoring or assisting on 22 of the last 30 points. Butler outscored the Bucks 13-8 in clutch time (the last five minutes of the game when the score is within five points).
Butler also increased his defensive energy. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bucks were 1-of-8 (13%) when Butler challenged their shot in Game 4.
“It was frustrating for 40 minutes of this game… “It just goes to show that if you have the right grit and perseverance, you can win,” stated Spoelstra. “And then it always helps to have a guy like him.”
The Heat entered the game with a depleted backcourt following injuries to guards Tyler Herro (hand) and Victor Oladipo (knee) throughout the series.
Butler, on the other hand, set the tone for Miami right away. He scored 22 of Miami’s 28 first-quarter points, including a 20-point burst in the last six minutes. Butler then scored 32 points in the second half, including 21 in the fourth quarter, to complete the epic comeback.
Milwaukee tried everything defensively to slow Butler down, but he scored against seven different main defenders, including making 16 of 21 (76%) contested attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Info statistics.
“When he gets into that zone, he’s just such a killer,” said Heat player Kevin Love. “Lions like hunting, man. They make their kill and continue hunting. That’s exactly what he does. He has a big heart. He doesn’t want to make it about himself; he simply wants to get the job done.”
Butler’s domination overshadowed Antetokounmpo’s comeback, who started Game 4 after missing the previous two games due to a lower back injury. With Antetokounmpo’s 26 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds, the Bucks became just the sixth No. 1 seed to trail 3-1 against a No. 8 seed since the first round was extended to a best-of-seven format in 2003. Only one of those teams (the Detroit Pistons in 2003) recovered to win the series.
“The series is still going,” remarked Spoelstra. “And we have a lot of respect for that group’s championship DNA.”
That’s why, despite the fact that Butler rewrote Miami’s record books on Monday, Spoelstra was hesitant to give Butler a grade. The Heat seized a 3-1 lead against the club with the best record in the NBA this season, and now Miami’s emphasis goes to completing a first-round shock of the Bucks.
“I don’t think Jimmy would want me up here ranking this performance or anything,” said Spoelstra. “He’s not unwinding. He knows what we still need to accomplish and who we’re up against. We still need to find a means to complete the task.”