Is Playoff Jimmy a Real Thing?

In last night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, Jimmy Butler genuinely had an all-time great playoff performance: 12-19 shooting, 41 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks, only 2 turnovers, a +25, and an incredible 17-18 from the free throw line.

And remember, the Celtics have an all-time great defense this season. They suffocated KD and Kyrie en route to a sweep in the first round, and just got through a grueling 7-game series against Giannis and the defending Champion Bucks in which they held Giannis to 45.7% field goal shooting, which is significantly below his normal shooting averages.

Now, you could say this game was a product of the fact that the Celtics just wrapped up that Bucks series on Sunday and had a short turnaround, but the Celtics were playing extremely well in the first half of this game. It’s not like the Celtics came out flat.

The Heat were getting beat in the first half, although they were never really getting blown out, even though Boston was hitting close to 60% of their shots from the field. It was 62-54 at the half.

And things did not look good for Miami in the first half. The announcers were talking about how much bigger Boston was, how Boston kept getting wide open looks and easy buckets–it looked like Miami was completely outclassed. People on Twitter were already talking about blowing the Heat roster up, Jayson Tatum is a top-5 player in the league (he had a really good first half)–it seemed like Boston was not only going to run away with the game, but the series. Because Boston was doing all that without Marcus Smart and Al Horford, both of whom were ruled out just hours before the game (Smart due to a mid-foot sprain, Horford due to health and safety protocols).

The Heat then came out on a 22-2 run to open up the third quarter and that was basically all she wrote. By the end of the third, the Heat had erased their 8 point deficit and entered the final quarter with a 93-76 lead. They outscored Boston 39-14 in the third quarter overall. Whatever Erik Spoelstra told his team, or whatever adjustments he made at halftime, clearly worked (this postseason has really underscored just how important coaching is in the NBA, and specifically just how great a coach Erik Spoelstra is).

The biggest story, though, was Jimmy Butler. Now people are raving about “Playoff Jimmy,” and saying the 2020 Bubble Jimmy Butler is back.

But I have to make this clear: we have never seen this level of play from Jimmy Butler in his career.

If you take a look at Jimmy Butler’s career regular season averages vs. his career playoff averages, he’s definitely been better in the postseason, albeit not significantly better. But then when you look at his stats from just this postseason, it’s like he’s a completely different player:

His numbers in this postseason are through the roof. 30 points a game, 57% eFG shooting, 7.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals, an incredible 13.8 overall BPM and a 4.3 DBPM. He’s got an insane 24.6 on/off plus/minus differential, which means the Heat are 24.6 points per game better when he’s on the court vs. when he’s off it. His Player Efficiency Rating is an otherworldly 33.1–for reference, LeBron James for his playoff career averages 28.2 PER, albeit over 266 career playoff games. His best postseason PER was 37.4 in the 2009 season, and he’s been over 30 PER for a postseason 7 times in his career. But he’s only had one postseason with a better PER than Jimmy is averaging right now.

LeBron’s 2018 playoff run, which is regarded by many as probably the best individual playoff run any player has ever had in NBA history, registered a 32.2 on the PER. And Jimmy is almost a full point higher in these 2022 playoffs.

Michael Jordan’s career postseason PER average is 28.6, and His Airness had 4 postseason runs with a 30+ PER in his career.

Michael Jordan NEVER had a playoff run with a better PER than what Jimmy is averaging right now.

Let me say that again: Jimmy Butler’s Player Efficiency Rating in the 2022 playoffs is higher than any single playoff run Michael Jordan ever had.

That’s how good Jimmy Butler has been in these playoffs. Not even Shaq in 2000 had a higher postseason PER than Jimmy is posting this year. Shaq in the 2000 playoffs was a 30.5.

KD has never in his career had a 30+ PER in a postseason run. Steph Curry has never had a 30+ PER in a postseason run. Kobe never had a 30+ PER postseason run.

What Jimmy is doing right now in these playoffs is absolutely ridiculous. I cannot overstate that enough. Both his “regular” stats and his advanced stats are simply off the charts.

His best playoff run prior to this year was 2020, the Bubble. He averaged 22.2ppg on 51.4% eFG. He’s blowing those numbers out of the water this year. His PER in that postseason was 23.8, almost 10 points lower than this year. He’s so far beyond his 2020 Bubble numbers. We have never seen this level of play from Jimmy Butler in his career up to this point.

Now, before we get too crazy, let’s just remember that Butler is only through two series plus one game in the conference finals. But still: this is a decent sample size nonetheless. It’s 12 games.

“Playoff Jimmy” is one thing, but this is something else entirely. This is one of the greatest individual postseason runs in NBA history we’re witnessing. Not even the “Playoff Jimmy” we knew before 2022 was this good. We’ve never seen Jimmy Butler play at this high a level.

I don’t know how to explain it and I’m not even going to try. It’s not like Jimmy is some young, ascending player reaching his full potential. Jimmy is 32 years old and turning 33 in September.

I have to imagine he’s going to cool off a bit once the Celtics get Marcus Smart and Al Horford back–and due to simply mean reversion. History would tell us that this level of play–not just for Jimmy Butler, but for anybody–is unsustainable. But then again, who knows?

Let’s not let this take away from how good he’s been on both ends of the floor, though.

It feels like this is going to be a long series that’ll probably go 7 games. I’m sure Boston will make some adjustments and focus their defensive efforts on locking Jimmy down. They’ll probably start doubling him, I’m sure. How will he respond to that?

Finally: are we ready to admit the Bubble wasn’t a fluke?

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