Sixers Won The Breakup With Jimmy Butler
Thank u, next.
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In their biggest game of the regular season, the Philadelphia 76ers showed their former star closer Jimmy Butler last night that the best revenge truly is living well. Following his bad breakup with the squad over the summer, Jimothy was roundly booed whenever he touched the ball for the first two quarters. And while we could have a debate about whether that was merited or productive or right if we really wanted to -- you know the Twitter handle, I’m always down to hector -- fact is, by the third quarter it was a moot point: The Sixers were winning by so much that the lusty jeers had all but disappeared, now a murmured disapproval at most.
Indeed, Jimmy Butler not only lost control of the game last night, he lost control of its narrative. What should have been a showdown between two East contenders to prove whether Miami’s hot start really meant more than the Sixers’ early struggles -- and in essence, to demonstrate if Jimmy was correct to head a couple hundred miles south over the summer -- instead simply made for a showcase of what these Sixers look like this when playing at close to peak health and effort. The other team didn’t even matter.
Well, maybe the other team mattered a little. It’s certainly possible that Jimmy Butler’s recent “well yeahhhh I didn’t come back to Philly cuz drama with SOME PEOPLE, but lol I’ll tell you later who I mean :)” comments didn’t sit well with Ben Simmons, spurring him to one of the most resounding defensive efforts of his career checking JGB on the perimeter. Embiid might’ve been less spiteful in his rising to the occasion, but impressing the closest thing he seems to have to an NBA big bro with one of the best two-way performances of his career may have been of import. And Josh Richardson might not give a hoot and a half about Jimmy Butler in general, but his NBA Jam-like shooting performance might have had a little something to do with playing the team that included him as sign-and-trade filler when dealing for the man.
But my primary takeaway watching this game was this: When the Sixers are playing at this level, there are zero teams that can beat them. Certainly not the Miami Heat, who looked out-physicaled, out-executed, significantly out-talented and entirely overwhelmed. When the Sixers are this locked in -- and to a man, they were all playing on 10 last night, the crispest performance I can ever remember seeing from a Process squad -- they are absolutely everything we ever hoped they were, and the friggin’ Heat don’t have a ghost of a chance.
Which is not to say that every aspect of this performance was repeatable. Al Horford hit an Al-Horford-Playing-Against-Us number of long, semi-contested jumpers. Josh Richardson might never again be this unable to feel his face shooting from the floor -- towards the end, his makes were starting to look like they were poorly CGI’d. The Heat missed a handful of wide-open “Can’t anything go right?” triples. There was flukiness at play, for sure,
But the great thing about winning a game by 40 -- which the Sixers did; I don’t acknowledge the differential that was inexcusably choked up by our B- squad in garbage time -- is that “What If?” doesn’t matter. What if J-Rich hadn’t gotten center-of-the-universe hot? What if Horford missed a couple of those lengthy 2s? What if Jimmy had hit some of his shoot-it-coward looks? OK, so then the Sixers only win by 20 instead. There was simply no contest in this one: The Sixers were able to get to all of their spots on offense, and to deny Miami absolutely anything comfortable on defense -- for entire stretches of this game, the Heat’s best offense was waiting for the Sixers to inevitably get into the passing lanes and just hoping that their deflection bounced to a different Heat player. In fact, the Sixers themselves missed two gimmes at the rim in the first quarter; you could’ve argued they should’ve been up even more at the half.
And what does all this mean? In short, it means that now we know. We know what it looks like for this team when things go right, and more importantly, we know what it looks like for this team when everyone -- from Tobias stoning ball-handlers on the perimeter to Ennis saving plays under the basket to Shake… uh, helping with the Frosty Freeze Out maybe? -- is going 100%. We hadn’t seen it before, and for all we knew, there was no actual version of the team like that. But now we can be sure that in fact they do exist, and learning that is enough to make us swoon like Santa in that unkillable M&Ms commercial.
Which is by no means to suggest that the team will look like this all regular season -- hell, I wouldn’t bet on them even playing an entire playoff series on this level. There’ll be lags, there’ll be let-ups, there will certainly be injuries and doghouse visits and more mini-dramas without explanation or precedent to throw onto the Process pile. There’ll certainly still be games against the Clevelands and Golden States of the world -- how far we’ve come since 2016, huh? -- where the Sixers don’t quite get it together, and we’re left shouting BE BETTER at our TVs if not outright booing their effort in person.
But that’s OK. We should be able to find our way through those doldrums for the rest of the season, because again: Now we know. We know that when the situation calls for it, this team can dial it back and take care of business. We know there’s an extra gear to get to, that Basketball Nirvana is approachable. We know that there’s not a team in existence who would want to play this version of the Sixers in a game that actually mattered. And we certainly know that we won the breakup with Jimmy Butler, and that the Miami Heat are no real threat to us whatsoever. Thank u, next.