PHILADELPHIA — Jimmy Butler doesn’t care about his shot attempts or points. Doesn’t care if he plays 40 minutes or 20 minutes.
"Like I always say, I just want to win," Butler said late Thursday night. "If we win, I’m good. If we don’t, I got a problem."
No problems for Butler today, not after leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 112-101 victory against the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with 25 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals.
Butler’s effort helped force a decisive Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), and the winner will play the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals.
"We need him to be the same, especially up in Toronto," said Sixers center Joel Embiid, who still isn’t 100% after battling illness in this series.
? @JimmyButler (25 PTS, 8 AST) & @BenSimmons25 (21 PTS, 6 AST) combine for 46 points & 14 assists, leading the @sixers to the Game 6 victory! #PhilaUnite#NBAPlayoffs
Game 7: Sunday (5/12), 7:00pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/YvXuA1Jlys
Butler set the tone before the game began.
"The mood in the locker room as we went through our version of a shootaround before, you could sense the serious side," said Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. "They got the moment, and he got it as much as anybody. And led us. He was a tremendous leader, and his performance mirrored his attitude."
Butler is intense and direct. But it stems from his desire to win, and he brings the most playoff experience to the Sixers. That’s why Philadelphia acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves early in the season.
But it was hard to tell what kind of impact Butler would have. The Sixers played just 10 games during the regular season with Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Reddick and Tobias Harris on the court. That’s an impressive starting five. But how would it translate to the playoffs?
If Butler searched for the right role during the regular season, he has found it in the playoffs. He wants to help the offense, and his focus on defense makes him one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
"More than anything, we let our defense start us out and dictate our offense," he said. "I always say when we play like that, we’re hard to beat, home, on the road, neutral site. That’s how we have to play basketball."
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On Thursday, he scored six of the Sixers’ first 10 points. He had eight points in the quarter and 11 in the second quarter, including seven in a 78-second stretch to end the half.
"I just came out aggressive as they tell me to be all the time," Butler said. "Game is simple. I shoot the ball when I’m open. Sometimes, I shoot when I’m not open and I try to get out in transition and get some steals and rebounds and take off. That’s just how the game went for us tonight."
Against the Raptors, Butler is averaging 23 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.2 steals and shooting 45.5% from the field. After scoring just 10 points in a Game 1 loss, he has scored at least 22 in the last five games, including 30 in Philadelphia’s Game 3 victory.
"I’ve said before, this an adult in the room when he’s on the court," Brown said. "The athletic plays that he makes, the physical plays that he makes — he attacks. And he’s so strong. When he has that laser-focus and you’ve got that body to back it up, incredible things happen offensively and defensively. He has that mind, that attitude, that’s a hell of package."
Butler isn’t fazed by the moment as he guides Embiid and Simmons through the playoff minefield. Butler has been in this situation before with the Chicago Bulls. He knows what is required. He provides the calming influence, too. There's no panic in Butler's game.
"I'm just hoopin'," Butler said. "I'm doing what they ask me to do. I play to win. Right now, this is what I have to do in order to give us a great chance of winning. From game to game, series to series, the role could change. I’m cool with it."
So are the Sixers, and they’d be cool with it if Butler hooped like that at least one more game.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
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