Just before halftime that chant rocked the Wells Fargo Center, for the fifth time in the first half Thursday night.
Get used to it.
Just like “Trust the Process” and “M-V-P,” Butler’s name will be part of the Sixers’ soundtrack for the next five years. It will cost $188 million.
Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose career hinges on players like Butler, seems to agree. Sixers boss Josh Harris, who signs the checks, didn’t tip his hand — but he certainly did smile a lot, hug a lot, and give a lot of high-fives in the postgame news conference.
If Butler produces like he has this postseason, he’ll be a bargain. He’s due to be a free agent in the offseason, and he wants the most money and the most years possible. He’s not Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. Is Butler worth it? Will he fit into the Sixers’ long-term plans?
He’s a closer. He’s a killer. In Thursday night’s 112-101 win, he was a savior.
With the Sixers facing elimination in Game 6, Butler dragged them from the torpor that cost them Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. He forced a Game 7 on Sunday in Toronto.
He saved the season in just 24 minutes.
“In the first half, the authority and the skill package and his will — put whatever words you want,” Brown gushed. Often a jovial group pregame, facing summer vacation, the Sixers weren’t playing around, Butler least among them: “You could sense the serious side. He got it as much as anybody. He led us. His performance mirrored his attitude.”
Butler’s first-half performance: 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting, the main reason the Sixers led by 15 at halftime. He played some point guard and he dealt four assists.
He finished with 25 points, eight assists, and six rebounds, and several times the Sixers resurrected a snippet of the Boogie Down Productions ditty from 1988, “Jimmy.” (Don’t listen to it in front of small children.)
“It sets the tone,” said point guard Ben Simmons, who, thus inspired, played his best game of the playoffs.
Do six games of a series make a player max-money-worthy?
“I’m not going to comment on the contract,” Brown said, spotting Harris in the back of the room. "There is an adult in the room when he’s on the floor."
Butler’s self-control and his body control, his concentration and his instinct, his hustle and his heart add value to whatever your valuation of him is.
“Incredible things happen offensively and defensively. He has that mind — he has that attitude — that’s a hell of a package,” Brown said. “Translate that to whatever that means from a contract standpoint. From a head coach’s standpoint, I go to all those things — leadership, skill, and so on; and there was an adult in the room. In a Game 6, closeout game.”
Harris smiled at that answer.
Certainly, the Sixers are nowhere when center Joel Embiid isn’t healthy. And they can’t function when Ben Simmons plays timidly. But they’re not nearly enough. Not against the best all-around player in the NBA.
It was not by design, Butler said.
“I just do what they asked me to do: Be aggressive,” he said.
Butler was, for once, a viable answer to Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 29 points. Butler even abused the Claw a couple of times.
With 4 minutes, 10 seconds to play in the second quarter Butler beat Danny Green, drew the defense of Leonard, and never took his eyes off the basket as he floated an alley-oop pass to Simmons for a 12-point lead.
Butler brought the house down 4 minutes later.
Leonard burst past Butler, but Butler stayed in the play and ripped Leonard’s dribble from behind. Butler then outraced Green to the rim for a layup with 0.4 seconds to play.
“He carried us, offensively" Embiid said. “And that last steal before the half was huge.”
This decision to go all-in on Butler was not always such a slam-dunk.
Butler landed in Philadelphia via trade from Minnesota in November. He came cast as the finishing piece of The Process — an all-around threat, an All-Star veteran, the perfect big brother to Embiid and Simmons, the callow cornerstones.
He cost the Sixers a couple of favorites — defensive stopper Robert Covington and charismatic forward Dario Saric — but the point of the Process was to hoard gold-plated assets like them and one day turn them into solid-gold assets, like Butler.
Nothing comes easy for the Sixers. Butler arrived with baggage. At 29, he no longer had patience for players who couldn’t carry their weight, and expressed as much to the Timberwolves’ young stars Karl-Anthony Townes and Andrew Wiggins as much to their faces, in front of their peers.
Would he bring the same act to Philly? Would he be insubordinate to Brown, a coach on a hot seat?
Yes, to a degree. Butler has prodded Simmons and Embiid to be more aggressive, and cameras have caught him openly questioning Brown’s decisions during games.
And look, we’re not naifs. As soon as he was traded, Butler embarked on a six-month campaign to reconstruct his image.
Butler might not be the Alpha Dog either Simmons or Embiid wants (they don’t want any), but he’s the Alpha Dog they need.
He might get Brett Brown fired one day. Again: so what.
Thursday night, he saved Brown’s job. Harris indicated twice this year that Brown needed to take the Sixers past the second round of the playoffs, or else. He was ecstatic Thursday night, but he might be just as dour if the Sixers collapse on Sunday.
They seemed well on their way to improve on last year last week, when they took a 2-1 lead into Game 4. But Embiid played sick in Games 4 and 5, and not even Butler’s fine play was not enough to beat the Raptors.
It was Thursday night.
Butler averaged 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists this season. He played inconsistently in his 65 games. He struggled to find a role in an offense anchored in Embiid and run by Simmons, who won’t shoot from the outside. Those issues grew larger after the trade deadline, when the Sixers reconstructed their fifth through ninth spots.
Those issues largely disappeared in the second round of the playoffs — the money round.
Butler is averaging 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists against the Raptors, and he has hit 38 of his 43 free throws, including all seven Thursday night.
He has been their best player against the Raptors — but then, he’s the most complete player on the team. Of course he is.