There is one shot that will haunt the dreams of Miami Heat fans for the next few months-- and it wasn't the Max Strus shot that inexplicably got wiped away during the team's Game 7 grudge match against the Boston Celtics. No, the shot that will be replayed over and over again in the minds of thousands is Jimmy Butler's pull-up three-point attempt with 18 seconds to go with the Heat down two.
It is the central discussion point the day after the Heat's season-ending loss, and for good reason. Butler is a notoriously unwilling three-point shooter. Not quite to Ben Simmons' level, but Butler averaged only two attempts per game this season. It's just not his game, and that's fine. When the playoffs come, Butler becomes a little bit more eager to pull the trigger if the defense sags off. He recorded two games with four made three-pointers during this year's playoff run after notching zero of those throughout the entire regular season.
So with the season on the line, everybody was surprised to see Butler pull up from three instead of bullrush his way to the basket as we saw him do time and time again against Boston. He only had one man to beat. But Butler didn't go for the tie. He went for the knockout punch, the shot that would've put his team up one with 15 seconds to play in a do-or-die game. It would've been legendary if it fell.
But it didn't.
The question, of course, is why Butler chose to do that. It was incredibly audacious but many are taking the soapbox today to argue it wasn't a smart basketball play, and they have a point. He went for the high-risk, high-reward play with everything on the line despite his weaknesses as a shooter.
Butler was definitely exhausted after playing every single minute of the game. He probably didn't want to go to OT. And it was a legacy-defining shot. If he makes it, nobody cares if it was questionable decision-making. Plus, the one man he had to beat was Al Horford, playing the best defense of anybody on the court that night. It's not a given he successfully finishes a layup if he went that route.
As it turns out, though, this was not the first time Butler was in this spot. And how the last time turned out might've led to his three-point attempt last night.
We all remember the legendary Kawhi Leonard shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019 that sent the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. Who could possibly forget a Game 7 buzzer-beater that hung on the rim for ages before finally falling through? Not to mention the domino effect that resulted in Butler's departure to Miami and a championship for Toronto. But as is often the case, nobody remembers what happened just before the iconic shot.
Leonard missed a free throw that would've put the Raptors up three. The Sixers pushed in transition with less than 10 seconds to go. Who got the ball? None other than Jimmy Butler, who put his head down and bullied his way to the rim for a game-tying layup.
The two situations at hand here are not exactly the same but the similarities are obvious. I'm not saying Butler had the Kawhi shot on his mind running up the floor against the Celtics. But I am saying that a psychotic competitor like Butler has been replaying that sequence in his mind for years, and probably promised himself that if he's ever in that spot again, he was going for the win.
It didn't work out this time, but from what Butler and all his teammates said after the game, there are no regrets about it.