It's not just that Jimmy Butler played 48 minutes in a playoff game the Chicago Bulls won. He'd done that before. Twice, actually, making him the second guy to play the full length in back-to-back-to-back playoff games since 1986. (LeBron James in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals was the other).
With Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich out, Butler is being asked to fill a whole bunch of roles for the Bulls, and the second-year man is doing them as well as anybody could ask of him. His 21 points and 14 boards made him arguably the most important player in the team's surprising 93-86 win over the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
He scored effectively, ending up with 21 points on just 13 shots. He got to the line 10 times, just one less time than the Heat's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
He defended the MVP, James. Normally Deng's job, Butler was the guy responsible for checking the game's best player and funneling him toward Tom Thibodeau's tightly-packed help defense. Butler did a pretty spectacular job, holding James to just two points on six shots in the first half. Sure, James would be James in the second, hitting a variety of plays no other person on the planet could hit, but Butler's effort early on kept the Bulls in striking distance.
Butler talked about the responsibility:
"I just tried to make everything difficult for him. That caliber of a player there's no stopping him. Its all about containment. Myself and my teammates, we tried to contain him, and that was the key," he said.
About taking Deng's role:
"I talked to Lu before the game. He said take up the space. make everything tough for him. Challenge every shot. And of course no layups, make him earn it from the stripe. Lu's going to rest up, and we want him back, but until then, I'm stuck guarding him" he said.
Thibodeau praised Butler's defensive effort on James:
"The thing about Jimmy is Jimmy is going to work the whole time. and Jimmy played as good defense as you can play on some of those shots, and LeBron still has the ability to make," he said.
Butler rebounded well, grabbing a game-high 14 boards. With Joakim Noah mainly spending his time contesting drives, somebody had to clean up the mess on the glass left in his wake, and the 6'7 Butler was there among the trees.
And he was clutch, drilling a three with four minutes late to make the game 81-80 in Chicago's favor.
Saying that nobody could have expected this out of Butler is putting it lightly. Nobody should have expected this from Butler. Nobody should have expected Deng, the guy who led the NBA in minutes per game, to randomly develop complications from a spinal tap in the same series Kirk Hinrich was out.
And nobody could have expected Butler to step up so masterfully. This is a guy who didn't have a role as a rookie, and in his second year, was a reserve player with length as a perimeter defender and a slightly improved jumper. He's playing 48 minutes a game for a team that just won a Game 7, then two days later beat the presumptive NBA champions.
Butler spoke about the minutes load and his do-everything role:
"It's all about the rest you get in between. I'll do whatever it takes for this team to win, if that's 48 or if that's 20. my teammtes have confidence in me to still be effective on offense or on defense. I gotta produce," he said.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade spoke favorably about his fellow Marquette alum:
"Jimmy, he plays, he was 5-for-13, he had 10 free throws, we didn't expect that, but Jimmy has really turned into a very good NBA player early in his career. His confidence level is very high, they believe in him, he's not only knocking down shots, he's getting into the paint, and rebounding the ball he's down there, he's down there guarding LeBron, he's a solid player, he's a lot better than a lot people thought he would be at this point in his career," he said.
All quotes via NBA.com's live presser conference stream.