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Notebook | Starters “Excellent” in Crunch Time, Butler Enjoying Ride

Butler Digging the Ride

Since the 76ers pulled off the blockbuster trade for Jimmy Butler November 12th, life’s been pretty good.

The team has posted a 5-2 record with the four-time All-Star in uniform, and currently holds a 1.5 game lead on the Detroit Pistons for third-place in the Eastern Conference standings.

While there’s still a ton of basketball to be played in 2018-19, the early returns of Butler’s impact have been encouraging. More than that, the 29-year old has been enjoying his time in a new environment.

“I really do like it here, I’ll tell you that,” Butler said about his experience with the Sixers, after assuming a starring role in Sunday’s 127-125 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

His presence appears to be appreciated by his peers, too.

“He’s fitting in nicely,” said Joel Embiid. “We are still getting adjusted, and performances like tonight make a big difference.”

As Butler continues to settle in, he’s staying focused on the near-future, and channeling his energy towards help the Sixers stockpile wins.

“This is a hell of a locker room, a hell of a staff,” he said. “I can see this being home.”

Putting a Premium on Experience

In terms of short-term value, there’s no question one of the lasting takeaways from Sunday’s game at Barclays Center was Jimmy Butler, once again, using his difference-making two-way play to position the Sixers for a clutch win.

Looking at the lay of the land through a longer lens, perhaps of even greater significance was that the team’s recently retooled starting five had an extensive chance – under duress, with backs against the wall – to not only mount a comeback together, but successfully see it through.

When Brett Brown brought Joel Embiid and JJ Redick back in with just under five minutes to go, they stayed on the floor with Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Wilson Chandler for the remainder of regulation.

The quintet constitutes the starting line-up Brown has gone with since the Sixers acquired Butler via their swap with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Only this past week, however, was the minutes restriction from Chandler’s pre-season hamstring injury lifted, thus giving Brown and the Sixers a fully healthy starting group.

Situations like Sunday’s intense finish, Brown feels, provide important, necessary opportunities for chemistry and growth to take root.  

“I think it’s a tremendous experience for these guys who really haven’t played that much basketball together,” Brown said, especially for his starters. “I think experiences like that matter, and it connects with bonding and having a reference point when you are down in other games that you can footnote this game.”

Sure, Butler’s 3-point heave from the wing with time running out was Sunday’s prime cut highlight.

But the rest of his starting companions came through with key late-game contributions as well.

There was Embiid, slowing down the clock and cutting into the Sixers’ deficit by sinking four free throws in a row, before unleashing a ferocious dunk and go-ahead and-1 in the final two minutes.

Redick punched in a pivotal floater to bring the Sixers within four, then later nailed a triple with 63 seconds left to give the Sixers their first lead since the first basket of the night.

And amidst all of that, Simmons was wheeling and dealing. He dished out assists on three of the Sixers’ last five baskets.

Indeed, with Sunday’s game on the line, the Sixers’ first-stringers were clicking, to the tune of a 19-7 run that lifted the squad over the Nets.

“I was thrilled with our ability to execute at the end,” said Brown. “I think that slowly, and I hear that word ‘slowly,’ we’re trying to figure each other out, but I thought the execution down the stretch, in crunch time with crunch time plays, was excellent.”

In seven contests as full-time starters, Simmons, Redick, Butler, Chandler, and Embiid have combined to generate a net rating of 13.0 (113.6 offrtg / 100.5 defrtg). The figure is good for fourth-best in the NBA.

Extra Work Pays Off

To anyone who doubts the merits of going the extra mile, Jimmy Butler is here to prove you wrong.

For the second time in his short stint as a Sixer, the Marquette product just so happened to put in additional shooting work only hours before eventually delivering a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

It was during these solo sessions – the morning of the Sixers’ November 17th 122-119 overtime victory in Charlotte (on the second day of a back-to-back, no less), and just this past Saturday, at Villanova, on the eve of the team’s dramatic triumph over the Nets – that Butler simulated the two eerily similar shots that ultimately went down as the game-winners.

“I don’t really keep count of how many shots I put up,” Butler said of his shooting workouts. “I just know I go to 20 spots probably, and make about 50 from each spot.”

He then usually does some free throw shooting, followed by a little more refinement of his touch before wrapping things up. 

“Another day at the office,” said Butler.

He’s certainly been making it look that easy, regardless of all his efforts behind the scenes.

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