The Miami Heat secured history last week, knocking off a No. 1 seed in the NBA Playoffs as a No. 8 seed, becoming the first team from the league’s play-in tournament to ever win a round in the postseason.
And Jimmy Butler was right in the middle of it all.
Indeed, the star guard who has earned the nickname of “Playoff Jimmy” through the years, lived up to billing against the Milwaukee Bucks. And along the way, the short-handed Heat secured a second-round matchup with the New York Knicks.
And in game 1 of round 2, Sunday at Madison Square Garden, it was more of the same. Despite being hobbled by an ankle injury, Butler had 25 points and 11 rebounds as Miami posted a 108-101 victory, the fourth consecutive playoff win. Game 2 is Tuesday in New York.
The Heat arrived in Manhattan over the weekend, still abuzz over the monumental upset of the Bucks. After all, the last time a No. 8 seed was able to oust a no. 1 was 2011, when the Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
Butler and Miami did it in five.
“We just play hard,” Butler said after Miami’s 128-126 overtime victory in Game 5. “We know what we’re capable of. We don’t listen to the outside noise, and we will not listen to any outside noise. We’re going to do what we do.”
Nothing the Heat did all season ever indicated that they’d be in this position. All the talk in Miami was about how bad the 3-point shooting had fallen off from the previous year, the inability to make additions to the roster while teams around them improved, and how they’d fare in the playoffs with the No. 25 offense in the league.
But none of that mattered to Butler and the Heat, as they flipped a switch once the playoffs began. In the first four games against Milwaukee, Miami had an offensive rating of 121.2 while shooting 47.6% from three-point range. At the time, both metrics led all postseason teams.
“He is us. We are him,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He is everything about what we believe in.”
Like he did in 2020, leading the Heat to the NBA Finals, Butler has saved his best basketball for the postseason. He averaged 37.6 points per game against the Bucks, and authored a memorable 56-point performance — the most by a Heat player in playoff history — in game 4.
Indeed, the legend of “Playoff Jimmy” is alive and well, and the ability to flip the switch when it matters most is the intangible you want from a player against an upstart Knicks team in round 2.
“It’s not a thing. It’s not,” Butler said of the nickname after Game 4 vs. Milwaukee. “I just be hooping.”
While Butler was, far and away, Miami’s best player in Round 1, the rest of the veteran roster stepped up as injuries mounted. Miami lost veterans Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo during the series, but its depth rose to the fore.
“It’s the makeup of this group,” Spoelstra said after Game 4. “We have great competitors in that locker room and you just keep plucking away. More games than not this season we’ve had to win frustrated.”
Inside the Heat’s playoff resurgence has been markedly improved shooting. Against the Bucks, they shot 14% better from 3-point range than in the regular season. And while Butler’s scoring was off the charts, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin were factors off the bench. That, combined with veteran efforts from Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love, allowed the Heat to stun the Bucks.
“I’m glad you mentioned those guys because they had their imprint,” Spoelstra said after Game 4. And Butler concurred.
“We knew what we were capable of, even if nobody outside of this organization believed in us, that’s fine.” he said. “We just want to do what we know is possible: Play basketball the right way, smile, have fun, and be together no matter what.”
It’s working so far.