When Elton Brand made the move to acquire Jimmy Butler, he was pushing his chips in. The trade was always a gamble on a player who had high potential impact both positively and negatively. So far in the Playoffs that gamble has mostly paid off, but in Game 1 against Toronto, it turned.
You take what the game gives you a lot of the times. They’re a team that rotates very heavily, and we just missed some shots; that’s okay. I think we’re all fine with taking those exact same shots next game. – Jimmy Butler when asked about settling for jumpers in Game 1
Butler believes in his basketball feel, experience, and intellect. He perhaps at times will overthink, over-help, and gamble on the floor. When facing a less experienced opponent, this can create massive advantages. Against a veteran and savvy Raptors team, it seems to be more problematic than advantageous.
When we asked Jimmy about his shot selection and decision making, he said, “I’m comfortable with every aspect of my game. We can talk about a lot of different things, but if somebody is open, I’m always going to pass to the open guy.” He went on to say that if he needs to score, he will score but stressed the importance of the corner three to this offense. See the full video below.
Butler has a valid point, but the contrast in decision making between him and Kawhi in Game 1 was stark. Whereas everything with Kawhi seemed relaxed and unforced, Butler seemed to have made his mind up well before he acted. There were drives where he had an open opportunity at the rim but had already decided he was passing out. When a player of his caliber gets so deep into the defense, you’d really like to see him seek contact or finish at the rim. Everything felt calculated and unnatural with respect to Butler’s approach on Saturday night. The issue with this is a veteran team can see that and counter.
“It’s Tough to Cut That Water Off”
Butler acknowledged that his coach gets on him for freelancing defensively and gambling. Early in the game, he guarded Kawhi straight up and forced Leonard to make tough shots in the midrange. With ruthless efficiency and displaying all of the emotion of the Night King, Kawhi calmly took and made shot after shot over Butler’s outstretched hand. Eventually Butler began guessing defensively as well which only led to easier buckets for Kawhi.
“When someone is making shots like that, they get in a rhythm early, they see the ball go into the basket, it’s tough to cut that water off,” Butler said. He then said, “We can only hope to play the same type of defense tonight and see what happens, but I think we have some different stuff to put in there.”
When asked about Butler’s gambling and freelancing, Brett said, “I think he gets it right more than he doesn’t.” He continued on, “The balance of making a gamble or a read to make a play, I encourage that.” However, Brett continued, “At times, if he would go way out of his way to make a rogue play, it’s punishing.”
When asked about his tolerance level for trying to live with man defense on Kawhi, Brown said the following, “It’s all on the table. Obviously I’m not going to share it all, but when somebody has that volume of points in an isolated situation, you go all over the place.” He continued on, “Do you double him? If so, what area are you coming from?”
The sense is that Brown was comfortable with the defensive approach generally and will adjust according to his tolerance level if Kawhi and Siakam continue to shoot that hot with a hand in their face.
Below is the full video from the morning.
History Makes Fools Of Us All
I would argue that assessing a series after one game is a fool’s errand, and yet that is what we have to do. Based solely off of the regular season and Game 1, the problems are clear. The Sixers are forced to adjust but in Round 1, they played the chess match with Brooklyn to perfection after losing badly in Game 1. The loss Saturday felt decidedly different, more inevitable somehow as the game wore on. There is plenty of basketball left to play and bullets in the chamber.
Jimmy Butler has an opportunity to prove himself worthy of a 5 year max contract in this series. To earn that he will need to completely transform his performance from Game 1.