Jimmy Butler is playing in his second NBA Finals in four years since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers after the 2019 season. Butler has made Philadelphia pay, and even beat the Sixers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2022.
With the Miami Heat decimated, Butler has taken the underdog role. As an eight-seed, the Heat has been an underdog in every series on Pennsylvania online sportsbooks, which has been no problem for Butler.
In what appears to be, on paper, a lopsided NBA Finals, the series features a few players with Pennsylvania ties.
The Sixers made a mistake letting Jimmy Butler go
Butler is headlining one of the most improbable runs to the NBA Finals of all time. The Heat lost the first play-in game to the Hawks, and were roughly three minutes away from being eliminated altogether. Miami is the second-ever eight-seed to reach the NBA Finals.
Butler isn’t flashy, and doesn’t even have the numbers to prove it, but he’s undeniably one of the best players in the NBA. Butler’s career average is 18.2 points per game in the regular season, and he averaged 22.9 this season.
In the playoffs, however, Butler raises his game to another level. Since joining Miami in 2019, Butler improved his postseason average to 25 points per game. This playoff run, he’s averaging 28.5 points.
He’s taken out the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks and Celtics, with four games of 35 or more points.
Butler said in an ESPN interview after the conference finals:
“I play for Mr. O’Brien… You can take the All-Stars… You can take the All-NBA. All defensive team, don’t care. I really only want to win a championship.”
Butler’s mental toughness is what the Sixers lack. The Sixers haven’t made it past the Eastern Conference semifinals since 2001, and mental durability over the last several seasons has been the reason. It was the downfall against Butler’s Heat in 2022 and against the Celtics this season.
Butler certainly didn’t forget the Sixers passing over him. When the Heat defeated the Sixers in 2022, cameras in the tunnel caught Butler shouting: “Tobias Harris over me?”
While Butler enjoys another finals appearance, Sixers fans won’t forget what could have been.
Pennsylvania ties in the 2023 NBA Finals
Butler is the first Pennsylvania tie into the NBA Finals, playing 55 games for the Sixers in 2018-19. Though it was short, the Sixers’ best chance to win a title came when the team traded for Butler and lost to the Toronto Raptors on Kawhi Leonard’s four-bounce buzzer-beater in Game 7.
Kyle Lowry was on the floor when Leonard hit the shot, and is now in search of his second ring with Butler and the Heat. Lowry plays a supportive role to Butler, and has only started in one of Miami’s 18 playoff games.
The point guard is one of the most accomplished players to ever come out of the Philadelphia area. Lowry attended Northeast High School and Cardinal Dougherty in Philadelphia, and played for Jay Wright at Villanova. At 37-years-old, Lowry is a six-time All-Star with an NBA championship on his resume. One more could punch his ticket to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
While you won’t see him in uniform, former Villanova guard Collin Gillespie is listed on Denver’s roster. Gillespie signed with the Nuggets as an undrafted free agent, but fractured his right leg in July while helping Villanova during practice.
Gillespie is from Northeast Philadelphia and attended Archbishop Wood High School. Like Lowry, Gillespie continued his career at Villanova, where he became one of the best players in program history:
- National Champion (2018)
- Final Four appearance (2022)
- Big East Player of the Year (2x)
- All-Big East (3x)
- Big East Tournament MVP (2022)
- Bob Cousy Award (2022, Nation’s Top Point Guard)
Gillespie has been spotted on the Nuggets’ bench most of the season, including the playoffs. Hopefully, Gillespie is healthy next season to play for the Western Conference champions.
Sixers hire new coach Nick Nurse
In another connection to Leonard’s famous buzzer-beater, the Sixers decided to hire former Raptors coach Nick Nurse. He was up for jobs in Phoenix and Milwaukee, but expressed interest to coach MVP Joel Embiid.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in a story:
“Nurse’s desire to coach MVP Joel Embiid and his history with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey played a significant part in his decision to commit to a deal with Philadelphia, sources said. Nurse separated himself in the interview process, selling a vision for the Sixers centered on Embiid.”
Nurse has coached stars and has a championship pedigree. He’s also been one of the best coaches to shut down Embiid. In 19 regular season games, Embiid averaged 28.6 points per game against Nurse. Although in 13 playoff games, Nurse has held Embiid to 21.9 points per contest.
It’ll be nice to have a coach who schemed against the Sixers’ best player better than most coaches in the league.