Heading into Game 6 on Thursday night, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid each find themselves in a somewhat similar situation as they did three years ago.
The last time either player starred in a Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center came in 2019 during the Sixers’ second-round series against the Raptors. Down 3-2, Butler, who would become a free agent that offseason, was unphased by the assignment of extending the Sixers season, co-leading the club to the not-as-close-it-appeared 112-101 win.
Fans and media in attendance were singing Butler’s praise after that Game 6 win and rightfully so. He led the team in scoring (25 points) with an efficient 11-point second quarter that helped to create enough space between the two teams so the Raptors were never really in the game afterward.
Surely, Butler hopes that he can lead his team to similar success tonight.
Appreciating Butler’s 2022 Greatness
Butler has been even better in his ensuing playoff runs and this year’s performance has arguably been his best. The Heat star leads the NBA in win shares so far this postseason and of the remaining players, he has the best PER.
“Jimmy is just a stable high IQ, he’s got a feel for what your team needs and he does it on both ends,” Coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler this week (via Anthony Chaing of The Miami Herald).
“That’s what’s really kind of lost on young players coming into this league of really what that looks like, being a two-way basketball player. … Our whole team feels a great sense of confidence when the ball is in Jimmy’s hands and we leave the decision up to him. He’s a very efficient offensive basketball player.”
It doesn’t seem like Butler is getting grouped into discussions about the elites when discussing this year’s playoffs, though he no doubt belongs (and maybe some of that is the national media neglecting the Heat yet again).
Can Embiid Recreate Past Success in Game 6?
Butler isn’t getting enough attention in this year’s postseason similarly to how Joel Embiid’s performance in that 2019 Game 6 win wasn’t a major headline.
The Raptors’ frontcourt keyed in on Embiid with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka pestering the future MVP Candidate. Faced with challenges in the paint throughout the series, Embiid began making adjustments game, bringing increased intensity on defense and playing more of his minutes outside the paint and off the ball, allowing Butler and Ben Simmons to create (Embiid’s Game 6 usage percentage was just 17.4).
Embiid was +40 in 35 minutes of court time in that May 2019 contest and while the +/- doesn’t tell the whole story, it adds brush strokes to the painted picture. That mark remains the best in franchise history for a postseason performance and over the last three years, we’ve seen both that kind of gameplay as well as the high-usage, dominant offensive performances (such as Embiid’s career-high 50-point contest vs. the Bulls) bring massive amounts of success to Embiid’s Sixers teams.
The winning formula, in many cases, comes down to the opposition’s game plan. And no writer needs locker room access to tell you that Spoelstra is going further shift the Heat’s focus to stopping Embiid (as was the case in Game 5).
We saw James Harden step up in Game 4 (31 points, including 9-of-10 from the foul line) and Maxey rain in several big games during this year’s playoff run. The key for the Sixers winning Game 6 will be one of them channeling their inner Jimmy Butler in South Philadelphia, as Embiid’s play is likely to set a stage similar to the one that Butler shined on three years ago.
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