It was just a couple weeks ago that everyone was questioning Jimmy Butler's role in the Sixers' offense.
Why is he deferring so much? Does he not fit into the system? Has he lost a step?
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Well, so much for all of that.
Butler's role as the team's closer was never more evident than in the Sixers' 118-115 win over the rival Celtics (see observations).
The four-time All-Star put the team on his back, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a dagger jumper with 5.5 seconds left. He helped the Sixers conquer their Boston demons while showing just what he brings to the team's elite starting unit.
"They put the ball in my hands in the fourth and tell me to make plays and make shots," Butler said. "I think as of late I've been a doing good job of that, but that could be anybody to tell you the truth. As many weapons as we have on this team, anybody could get the hot hand, anybody could put the ball in the basket - it's just the last few nights it's been me."
All this begs the question: Why can't Butler do this through the first three quarters?
Butler was just 2 of 9 for seven points as the Sixers managed to cut a 15-point deficit to five entering the fourth quarter. Having just played 38 minutes in Charlotte on the first night of a back-to-back, Butler offered a pretty simple explanation for why he couldn't get going early Wednesday.
I was tired as s---. I'm not even going to lie to you. That back-to-back got me. And we didn't have [Joel Embiid] last night either. So quarters one through three I was trying, it wasn't going my way, but we won, so I don't care about quarters one through three.
While it's certainly fair for Butler to blame fatigue, there is probably a better analytical explanation.
When the Sixers' offense is going, there's a focus on pace and space. Brett Brown's system is predicated on player and ball movement. Even on a poor shooting night, the Sixers had more assists than the Celtics despite 11 fewer made field goals.
Butler is a player that excels in iso and pick-and-roll situations. While that may not fit perfectly into what the Sixers do offensively, in grind-it-out games like Wednesday against Boston and Sunday in Milwaukee, it's necessary.
Before Butler's arrival, there was no player Brown could turn to and just say, "Go get me a bucket."
Butler is that guy.
I don't think his demeanor changes. I think he's more comfortable in that static set where we're playing at a slower pace," JJ Redick said. "There's a real value in having someone who's capable of making plays against a set defense, somebody who can shoot over the top of guys and really take advantage of mismatches. I don't know that you want to play that way for four quarters, but certainly at times going down the stretch, there's value in that.
While Butler sealed the deal, it was Joel Embiid who willed the Sixers back into the game in the third quarter (see story). Embiid dominated and kept the Sixers afloat until it was time for Butler to play the closer role.
And that wasn't an accident.
"We talked about it before the game," Embiid said. "I told him that I needed him tonight, that I needed this win and he told me to get him to the fourth and he was going to take over. That's all I tried to do and obviously in the fourth, he's our best closer. [We've] got to put the ball in his hands in the fourth and I'm going to do my thing whenever I have the ball, but that was my job tonight and he showed up and in the fourth he was fantastic."
Embiid sets ‘em up, Butler knocks ‘em down.
Sounds like a hell of a plan.
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