Sixers 127, Nets 125: Jimmy Butler the hero again as Sixers pull off improbable comeback

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After the Sixers’ loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, Jimmy Butler addressed the media. Even with the aid of a microphone, you had to lean in to hear his words.

A notorious competitor, Butler wasn’t thrilled about losing to the Cavs, who entered the game 2-14.

“I think we got comfortable,” Butler said. “Playing at home, we’ve played so well at home this entire year, we really came out with zero energy. Not even low energy — zero energy. As much as I hate to say it, they came in here and did what they wanted to do.”

For most of the Sixers’ 127-125 win Sunday in Brooklyn (see observations), the Nets also did exactly what they wanted to do. D’Angelo Russell (38 points) and Spencer Dinwiddie (31) both posted season-highs. They nailed contested three-pointers, blew by the Sixers’ defense on the perimeter, and took advantage of lax rim protection whenever Joel Embiid was off the floor.

Butler, though, didn’t resign himself to a second straight limp loss to a team out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

His three-pointer from his favorite spot on the right wing with 0.4 seconds left saved the Sixers from another bad loss (see video). 

Butler has done his best to fit in, to be an unassuming cog in his new team. Through six games with the Sixers, nobody could accuse him of being a selfish superstar — he had a 20.4 usage rate and was taking 12.8 shots per game, both lows for him since the 2013-14 season. Butler only had 26 fourth-quarter points, low for a player routinely among the league leaders in that category.

On Sunday night, Butler stopped trying to blend into the Sixers’ offense. When the game was on the line, he took the offense into his own hands. Butler had 18 of his season-high 34 points on 7 for 7 shooting in the fourth quarter, helping the Sixers sustain the momentum of an unlikely comeback. The Sixers trailed by as many as 20 points, and by 13 at the start of the fourth.

And, just like at the end of regulation and on the final play of overtime in the Sixers’ crazy win over the Hornets on Nov. 17, head coach Brett Brown called a timeout and put the game on Butler’s plate.

“You give him the ball and you win or you lose,” Brown told reporters in Brooklyn.

“When we called the timeout, it didn’t take long to decide what we were going to do. We had a reference point from Charlotte. … Jimmy did what Jimmy does, and what he’s done in front of us before.”

His teammates and coaches have been urging Butler to be more aggressive on offense, though he said he’s still hesitant about overdoing it.

“They all tell me, ‘look to score. Be who you are,'” Butler said. “I try to play within the offense for the most part, and when the time comes, shoot the ball, create your own shots, iso if that’s what need be. But I’m new here, man. I want to fit in, just like anywhere else.”

In the fourth quarter Sunday night, though, Butler’s natural instincts took over. He stopped worrying about fitting in.

“I ain’t gonna even stunt, I was shooting that ball,” he said. “Coach Brett got lucky he called a timeout when he called it, because I was going to shoot that one too. That ball was going up.” 

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