After he scored 41 points in the first game, Vince Goodwell of Yahoo Sports Jimmy Butler calls Jimmy Butler the best player in the league NBA playoffs. He might be right. Butler’s scoring average is only a smidge lower than Luka Doncic’s 29.8 points per game, but he’s more efficient, shooting 54 percent from the field and getting to the free throw line nearly nine times per night.
But let’s not forget that one of the reasons Butler made the playoffs was because celtics Already eliminated two former MVPs and Finals MVPs this postseason. Objectively, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo are better than Butler, but none of that matters because in 2022, Boston has already handled all of that.
In Game 2, Butler added another solid performance to his growing playoff resume: 29 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on 11-of-18 shooting. Personally, he was great, but on Thursday night, like his other All-Star predecessors, Butler and his team suffered the same fate as the Nets and Bucks last week.
With Durant, Giannis, and now Butler in place, the Celtics have spent most of their time trying to one-man him in order to stay home over the other four players on the floor. Small guards like Peyton Pritchard or even Jaylen Brown couldn’t match his physicality in Game 2.
Enter Marcus Smart.
According to NBA.com stats, Smart was Butler’s primary screen in Game 2, defending him 32 of the Heat’s 63 possessions. Against DPoY, Butler took only five shots. While he assisted for four points, Smart clearly had an impact, which is a big reason why the Celtics returned to Boston with home-court advantage and tied the series at 1-1.
“As a Defensive Player of the Year, it’s important for them to be in the game, day in and day out, to be in the game and be able to play on both ends of the floor… You have to respect him and what he does,” Butler on Smart after the game.
What Smart did was make Butler’s life miserable.
“It’s hard. Jimmy’s a fighter, man. Jimmy’s been doing this for a long time,” Smart said of the games against the former Bulls, Timberwolves and 76ers. “He understands the game. He understands his strengths. He understands the strengths of the team. So when you have a guy with an IQ like Jimmy’s, it’s always a tough game.”
As smart as Butler is on offense, Smart is on defense. Butler is not a 3-point shooter, so Smart dived under cover at halftime. Butler was actively touching the free throw line, so Smart stood in front of him as much as possible. This is one of those races you know Smart loves to play.
“It’s a good one. I love playing against Jimmy anytime. As a defensive player (and) as a competitor, he’ll make you work and he’ll make you better. We know it’s going to be tough. Yes. My job is to make everything work against him,” Smart said.
The pressure on Butler from Smart’s singular D should continue to have a ripple effect. For the current three series, it’s a luxury for head coach Ime Udoka to be able to cover the team’s best player with a guard — Tatum guarding Durant, Horford and Williams guarding Antetokounmpo, and now, St. Matt guards Butler. Going into Game 3, Butler knew he needed help.
“I think I have to do a better job of getting other people involved, if I’m being brutally honest. I have to find that good medium, between when to attack and when to make sure I can keep players open Good boundaries,” Butler said. “Basically, I have to do Kyle’s job and make sure the players are where they can be comfortable and be their most successful. That’s on me. I don’t think that’s on Spo. I don’t think that’s about Bam … I think it’s my job because I get the ball a lot of the time to make sure everyone is comfortable with the shots they need.”
Through two games, Butler has scored 70 points. His starters totaled just 74. If Butler tries to strike a perfect balance, rest assured, Smart will be there to spoil it.