The Butler did it … again.
It has been a few years and a few uniform changes, but stop us if you’ve seen this script before.
A close game, in this case an overtime contest, and Jimmy Butler simply takes over the game to win it almost by himself.
Coming out of regulation, Butler drilled a two-pointer from the baseline and was fouled. He converted that for a three-point Miami lead.
He came down on the next possession and drilled a three from the very top of the arc. Then, with the Raptors trying to set up their offence, Butler stepped in front of a pass off the hands of Pascal Siakam and went the length of the floor for an eight-point Miami lead.
Toronto never recovered, dropping its first game of the season at Scotiabank Arena by a 121-110 score.
“They were really flying around at both ends, much, much more than we were so that was kind of the first thing,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “Then I thought they made really great reads out. There’s kind of a bunch of pieces to that, they hit the right guy and that right guy made a lot of shots as well. Or they took it to the basket and made some good finishes.”
A lot of those right decisions came courtesy of Butler.
The game did not lack in the drama department.
Nurse began the game sending extra bodies Butler’s way.
His defensive schemes to limit opposing superstars have been wildly successful this year and have received, appropriately, tons of credit for the Raptors success of late.
But every time they are brought up, every time someone marvels at their success, Nurse is quick to point out that he’s gambling every time he goes this route. By over-committing to a Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James or, in last night’s case, a Butler, you are leaving something else open.
Last night that something else happened to be a second-year NBAer named Duncan Robinson, who took full advantage of all the attention the Raptors paid to Butler to drain open three after open three after open three as the Heat looked to be on its way to spoiling Toronto’s unbeaten record at home in regulation.
It certainly looked like that was coming until Norm Powell, much like he did in a third quarter two games ago in Orlando: Got red hot and pumped in 13 fourth-quarter points to help the Raptors extend this one to overtime.
Powell, coming off the bench after an extended run as the Raptors starting two-guard with Kyle Lowry out, had just eight points through three, but hit three of his four triples in the game in that final period of regulation including a go-ahead three with under a minute remaining.
The two teams exchanged empty possessions before the Heat came down with 38 seconds on the clock and got to the free-throw line courtesy of a Butler drive and a Marc Gasol foul. Butler hit one of the two freebies to tie the game that eventually went to overtime.
Now, the Raptors don’t get hurt by this strategy if Butler gets stubborn and tries to muscle through the extra bodies, so give Butler credit for taking the proper approach and finding the Robinsons and Myles Leonards instead of forcing the issue against multiple defenders.
Robinson does have a career-high of 28 points in a game from earlier this season, so it’s not like he hasn’t done this before. He went off for 22 points on 8 of-11 shooting that included 6-of-9 from behind the three-point line.
Butler has had some big games against the Raptors in his history, but nothing quite as complete as this one.
Butler enjoyed just his fifth triple-double of his nine-year career with 22 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds. It was his first triple-double since the 2016-17 season.
The game marked the return of Lowry, who has been out since he sustained a slight fracture at the end of his left thumb back on Nov. 8 in a win over New Orleans.
Lowry played almost 41 minutes in his first action in almost a month, but didn’t make his first field goal until midway through the fourth quarter. His shot, not a surprise after missing all that time, was not quite there.
“That’s terrible,” Lowry said of his stat line, ignoring the assists and zeroing in on the 2-for-18 shooting. “That’s rhythm. I missed shots. Honestly, I don’t think I forced anything. I think everything I shot came within our offence and, honestly, a lot of those three’s were in and out, layups … it’s just rhythm and timing. Honestly, I haven’t done any basketball type playing since New Orleans so that takes a game. But I’m sure I will be better next game. It’s nothing to be concerned or worried about.”
Lowry went a tough 0-for-11 from behind the arc in the game and finished with 12 points.
The Heat has a very similar hard-working approach to the game that has served the Raptors so well these past few years.
They play tough defence, forcing you to earn whatever you get and move the ball hunting the open man very much like the Raptors do.
“You have two quality teams and they’re playing great basketball here at home,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game. “All the top teams in both conferences are doing that. We talked about it before our last game, if you are going to play a team like this in their building, you’re going to have to do things that are different and above and beyond. That’s just the reality, particularly with the way they’ve been playing of late, you’ve got to play consistently for 48 minutes to your identity, and on top of that you have to play well.”
Spoelstra got to check off all the boxes in that one, even if it did take an extra five minutes to get the job done.
The Raptors now have a day to get ready before James Harden and the Houston Rockets pay their one visit to Toronto on Thursday.