The series started with the Milwaukee Bucks trotting out as the top seed, armored with championship experience, arguably the best player in the world and a matchup against a Miami Heat team that needed to fight its way into the postseason picture. The favorites had no cause for alarm. Just the way Jimmy Butler likes it.
Butler has a penchant for doing what’s not expected. He’s there to wreck your evening and do it with a smile. These are his moments. He’s been thinking about them since forever and also five minutes ago.
There’s always an overemphasis on the playoff version of a superstar. Sometimes the false promises of a Playoff P meme-ify a fantasy of the type of star players want to be. But Playoff Butler has receipts, unwavering confidence, and a chip that’s never left his shoulder. Tobias over me? Of course, Butler doesn’t believe he has a playoff alter ego. “I just be hooping.” That’s very Jimmy Butler. The existence of a Playoff Butler inherently means a lesser Butler exists.
Facing an elimination Game 5, Butler’s presence made Milwaukee not only feel panicked inwardly — it showed loud and clear. From the Giannis Antetokounmpo near turnover in the final seconds of regulation in an attempt to not be the one fouled to shoot free throws to the Khris Middleton frantic pass in the final seconds of overtime, the Bucks were rattled.
In the absence of live ball, the voice inside your head never asked what the Bucks would do next. It assumed Butler would be there to close the deal. And he did. Even after catching the ball while parallel to the ground, with no time to spare.
With Giannis a few beats slow to the injury in his back, Butler smelled blood in the water and took constant bites. Averaging 37.6 points per game against one of the NBA’s lengthiest, most disciplined towers is impressive. Scoring 98 points in the final two games of the series is nonsensical. Doing so on 59% shooting, averaging 31 shots per game with all the attention in the world on him is obscene.
Milwaukee fans will see Butler in their nightmares the same way Sixers fans do from a year ago.
The scariest part? Butler’s next matchup is a stage he’s set to dance on; a date with the rugged, living-on-top-of-the-world-right-now New York Knicks, just days after their first playoff series win in a decade. Julius Randle re-aggravated his left ankle sprain and his status is in doubt, too. The Knicks will have to reinvent themselves in some ways — live and in front of the Heat, a team that just dethroned one of the league’s favorites without a key piece themselves in Tyler Herro, on the fly.
Jimmy Butler’s not done yet.
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)