NEW YORK CITY — A hobbled Jimmy Butler stood in the corner of the court at Madison Square Garden going through his shooting routine repeatedly, even while the ball was in play.
The Miami Heat star knew there wasn’t much he could do in the final five minutes, but he wasn’t going to leave the court.
Butler turned his right ankle on a drive with 5:05 in the fourth quarter but gutted out the rest of the game as the Heat defeated the New York Knicks, 108-101, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup. In his post-game walk-off interview with ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth, Butler said that he just wanted to find a way to be a presence on the floor.
“I didn’t do too much except for airball a three,” Butler said. “I’ll take the dub.”
When asked how his ankle was feeling, Butler added, “Like a rolled ankle.”
Butler did not address the media following the game but was hobbled as he walked through the Miami Heat locker room. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t have any more update on Butler following the game.
“You just don’t know with ankle sprains,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t even know if we’ll know more by tomorrow. We’ll just have to see. It’ll be a waiting game You just don’t know with ankle sprains. I don’t even know if we’ll know more by tomorrow. We’ll just have to see. It’ll be a waiting game.”
With 5:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Butler drove to his right on Knicks guard Josh Hart. As Butler felt contact from Hart, he rose up for a shot. Hart fell but as he did, he kicked Butler’s right ankle. Butler fell to the ground in a heap and immediately grabbed at his foot. He was on the floor for a few minutes before gingerly walking towards the Heat bench.
Despite the injury, Butler came back in the game to take his two free throws. However, he was mostly a decoy for the remainder of the game. He stood in the corner on multiple possessions or above the break not being involved in any actions.
Butler attempted one shot after the injury, a three-pointer he missed from the corner with 1:15 left. He didn’t leave the game until there were 23.6 seconds left and the outcome was not in doubt. Spoelstra said that Butler made it clear that he did want to come out of the game after the injury.
“I know him,” Spoelstra said. “I know when I can look in his eye. He assured me that he wasn’t going to be a liability and wanted to stay in there and make sure we get this swing. I mean that’s the most important thing. We’ve had a lot of chaos and a lot of things going on, but main thing being the main thing, we got to secure it and get the win and then we’ll figure out what happens in the next 48 hours.”
The trust between coach and player has something that has been building over the years, Spoelstra said.
Butler finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals in 43 minutes, 27 seconds of work. The only time he missed in the second half were in the final seconds.
Butler helped the Heat come back from a rough first quarter as the Knicks jumped out to an early double-digit lead. New York was up 55-50 at halftime before the Heat controlled most of the second half. When Butler went down in the fourth quarter, the Heat were clinging to a 95-92 lead. Butler’s free throws pushed the lead to two but from there on out, Butler couldn’t do much within the offense.
“Great decoy,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry joked.
Lowry said Butler staying in the game showed Butler’s toughness and the team’s toughness but in the moment, they were just hoping to see him get back up.
“That’s our guy. He’s our star. He’s our franchise player,” Lowry said. “We always want him to get up and the thoughts are hopefully he’s okay but if he’s not, we got to find, hold it down. … But this is what he does. He finished the game and he’s a tough dude.”
Lowry finished with 18 points, six assists and five rebounds in 29:59 off the bench. Lowry, listed at 6-foot, also had four blocks, setting a new playoff career high. According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Lowry became the shortest player with four blocks in a playoff game in the last 35 seasons. All four blocks came as the Knicks were driving in for layups.
While Butler was clearly hobbled, the Knicks didn’t attack him. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Butler was involved in just two pick-and-rolls in the final five minutes. He switched on one play and a foul was called before the play got going on the other. Butler was the closest defender on just one shot in the final five minutes, a missed 3-pointer by Hart with 34.3 to go when Butler couldn’t rotate out to Hart from his spot in the lane.
Game 2 is set for Tuesday night in New York but there’s three days off between then and Game 3 on Saturday in Miami. There’s no official word on Butler’s status, but the Heat have had to deal with injuries all season. In the first round alone, Miami lost Tyler Herro (right hand fracture) and Victor Oladipo (torn patellar tendon in left knee)
“This group has been through a lot,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve been through a lot this entire year and we’re not being insensitive to when guys get picked up or get hurt, but our group has learned to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand and that’s what it was.
“There wasn’t an overreaction. We’ve had enough tears behind the scenes, some guys getting hurt and stuff like that. We have to get the job done.”
Heat guard Gabe Vincent, who had 20 points, said that the team will just have to see how bad Butler’s ankle injury is and adjust from there. But what if the team has to play without Butler?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Vincent said.