Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler is finally back in the starting lineup after reinjuring his tailbone on December 6. The wing’s first game back was against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, December 26, during which Butler tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
Butler, who missed a total of 12 games since initially suffering a tail bone contusion on November 27, gave the Heat a much-needed boost on Sunday. Without the five-time All-Star, the Heat, who ranked third in the NBA when it came to free-throw attempts before his exit, averaged the fewest free-throw attempts in the entire league (16.2 per game), as reported by Miami Herald‘s Anthony Chiang.
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After the game, Heat Max Strus, who scored 13 points with two rebounds and two assists, applauded Butler’s return in a jocular way via his Instagram stories. Captioning a photo of Butler dunking, “Good to have you back @jimmybutler” with a middle-finger emoji.
Butler then reposted Strus’ message on his Instagram stories. He wrote, “You know how we go bro,” while giving Strus the middle finger back in return.
While this may seem like a super odd way of cheering on your teammate, flipping each other off is kind of Strus and Butler’s thing. In fact, it appears to be their official handshake.
Back on November 23, during the Heat’s 100-92 win over the Detriot Piston, the duo’s on-court, middle finger greeting was on full display. Strus put his hand out for a low slap when Butler flipped him the bird instead. The awkward routine must have been rehearsed because as if on cue, Strus switched up his high-five attempt to return the gesture toward Butler.
Heat’s Head Coach Praised Butler’s Performance Against the Magic
Overall, Butler’s presence lifted the entire team’s performance on Sunday night. When Butler was on the court, the Heat outscored Orlando by 16 points with an offensive rating of 116.7 points per 100 possessions, Chiang reported.
In his first game back against the Magic, Butler drew multiple fouls, drilling 7-of-9 from the foul line.
“You see how he just changes our offensive menu,” Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We didn’t even shoot it great tonight. That part is to be expected because we have a lot of moving parts. But our offensive game can get very settled and organized and coherent when Jimmy is in the game, when you need it to be.”
As for the two-way player’s talent at drawing fouls, “It’s just great to have that kind of threat again to be able to put pressure on the rim, which we’ve been able to do,” Spoelstra continued. “But also able to get to the free-throw line, which he does as well as anybody in this league.”
Strus Has Stepped Up Big Time
Despite missing multiple starters, the Heat have managed to win seven of their last nine games, an incredibly impressive feat. While point guard Kyle Lowry entered COVID-19 protocol a few days ago, the Heat have been playing for weeks without the team’s core duo of Butler and center Bam Adebayo (thumb surgery).
Heat foward Markieff Morris has missed 24 straight games (whiplash), while the following players have gone down with injuries recently: backup center Dewayne Dedmon (knee sprain), P.J. Tucker (lower leg inflammation). Two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo has yet to play a game this season.
In those players’ absences, the Heat’s bench has stepped up big time, especially Strus. The undrafted player out of DePaul scored a career-high 32 points against the Magic on December 24.
Prior to the Heat’s most recent tilt agains the Magic on Sunday, Strus has averaged 25 points while shooting 54.7% from the field, 46.7% on threes, along with six rebounds, and 1.8 assists in the past four games.
Funnily enough, Strus’ recent stellar game play has come while wearing Butler’s shoes, the Li-Ning Tushuai 14 Low sneakers. “We wear the same size and they’re comfortable,” Strus said. “I wear whatever. I just wore those the past couple of games. If I have a good game, I usually wear the same one the next time. So I’m just going to keep them rolling.”