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Hobbled Jimmy Butler serves as ‘decoy’ in Heat’s Game 1 win

Butler turned his right ankle on a drive with 5:05 in the fourth quarter but gutted out the rest of the match as the Heat defeated the New York Knicks 108-101 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup. In his postgame walk-off interview with ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth, Butler stated he just wanted to find a way to be a presence on the floor.

“I didn’t do too much except for airball a 3,” 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 further 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.”

With 5:05 left 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 toward 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 3-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 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 been building over the years, Spoelstra said.

Butler concluded with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in 43 minutes, 27 seconds of work. The only time he missed in the second half was 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 stated Butler showed his toughness, and the team’s toughness, by staying in the game, but in the moment the players 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 OK but if he’s not, we got to find, hold it down. … But this is what he does. He concluded the game and he’s a tough dude.”

Lowry finished with 18 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in 29:59 off the bench. Lowry, listed at 6 feet, also had four blocks, setting a playoff career high. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lowry became the shortest player with four blocks in a playoff game in the past 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 other play got going. Butler was the closest defender on just one shot in the final five minutes, a missed 3-pointer by Hart with 34.3 seconds 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 will be three days off between then and Game 3 on Saturday in Miami. There is 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).

Steve Carr

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