Jimmy Butler took a questionable shot on Sunday with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake.
He missed. The Miami Heat lost. The Boston Celtics instead advanced to play for an NBA championship. For this, Butler has no regrets.
Butler pulls up for 3 with NBA Finals on the line
In a familiar refrain throughout the postseason and since he joined Miami in 2019, Butler carried the Heat on his back as they clawed their way back into Game 7 before ultimately falling short. There's no other player Heat fans want taking the last shot, with good reason.
But was it the right shot? With Miami trailing, 98-96 with less the 20 seconds to play, Butler dribbled over half-court in transition. Instead of attacking the basket, he pulled up behind the 3-point line for a go-ahead attempt over the outstretched hand of Al Horford.
Make it, and Miami's a defensive stop from anointing Butler an all-time playoff hero. Miss, and Boston narrowly escapes a historic collapse. We all know what happened.
Jimmy Butler had a chance to give the Heat the lead.. pic.twitter.com/wUlDshU8RS
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) May 30, 2022
After the game, Butler was asked about the shot and what went into his decision to shoot it.
Butler: 'I'm living with it'
"My thought process was 'go for the win,' which I did."
Jimmy Butler doesn't regret his go-ahead 3-point attempt at the end of Game 7. pic.twitter.com/ThVmzZAmNL
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) May 30, 2022
"My thought process was go for the win, which I did," Butler said. "Missed the shot. But I'm taking that shot. My teammates like the shot that I took. So I'm living with it."
Spoelstra supports Butler's shot
Butler indeed had the support of his teammates and coaches. Because of course he did. He's the heart and soul of the team and the torchbearer alongside Udonis Haslem of all things "Heat culture." Head coach Erik Spoelstra called Butler's shot "the right look."
“I thought it would have been an incredible storyline for Jimmy to pull up and hit that 3,” Spoelstra said on Sunday. “I love that about Jimmy. That was the right look, and I just thought as it was leaving his hand, I thought for sure that was going down.
"It was a good, clean look, definitely better than anything we could have designed. It was a shame it didn’t end that way.”
Butler led the Heat on Sunday with 35 points on 13-of-24 shooting. He'd averaged 27.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and an NBA-best 2.1 steals per game while shooting 50.6% from the field in the postseason. He plays hard and without fear and consistently makes good basketball decisions. The decisive shot is his to take. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be a good one.
Statistics don't back up Butler's confidence
Butler can do little wrong on the court, with few exceptions. It just happens that one of those exceptions exists beyond the 3-point line. He's a poor 3-point shooter. Exceptionally so.
Butler shot 23.3% from 3-point distance during the regular season on two attempts per game. Among Heat players who played at least 50 games and averaged at least two attempts per game, Butler ranked eighth out of eight in 3-point percentage. He's literally the last player statistically that the Heat want taking a 3-point shot.
The case for Butler to attack
Meanwhile, Butler's outstanding at the free-throw line — both at getting there and converting. He averaged a team-best eight free throws per game during the regular season. When he got there, he converted 87% of the time.
Before he pulled up for three, Butler had a full head of steam against against a backpedaling Celtics defense with two defenders trailing the ball and the lane wide open. This is where he shines.
Horford's been formidable on defense in these playoffs, but Butler had the clear edge here if he decided to attack the basket. Doing so would have presented multiple potential outcomes to tie with the upside of an and-one opportunity to take the lead with an 87% shooter at the line.
And again, Butler's 3-point attempts this season failed 76.7% of the time.
There are plenty of statistical cases to be made in the modern NBA for taking a 3-point shot over a drive to the basket. This is clearly not one of those cases.
Butler earned the right to take the big shot in the biggest moment of his career. Heat fans want that. His teammates want that. But that doesn't make him immune from criticism when he makes a bad decision. In this case he did just that with a spot in the NBA Finals at stake.