In an unlikely twist, the final seconds of a clash between Jimmy Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves and Andre Drummond’s Detroit Pistons were not decided by a missed free throw from the latter. Butler scored a team-high 26 points on Sunday, but his final shot came up short in Minnesota’s 100-97 loss.
Butler is one of the NBA’s craftiest players at drawing contact, and he’s nearly automatic once he punches his ticket to the charity stripe, where he’s a career 82.9 percent shooter. However, free-throw shooters are OCD about their routines. It’s their place of meditation, and despite it’s relative simplicity, even the most reliable shooters can go haywire because of the slightest of interruptions.
Russell Westbrook’s free-throw percentage took a nosedive after the NBA introduced new delay-of-game penalties, and Drummond, who made four of his five attempts from the line on Sunday, has altered the course of his career by utilizing breathing techniques. And Butler was the latest test case.
Butler was bumped while attempting a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 6.2 seconds left. Instead, he stepped to the line for three free throws in an attempt to knot it up at 98-98. That’s when Detroit’s Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson hacked Butler’s brain and threw him out of sync.
Jackson interrupted Butler after he knocked down the first two freebies, stepping into the key and motioning towards Johnson, who was lined up outside the lane. Butler knew what was up. The exasperation was etched all of his fave. Seconds later, the referee tossed Butler the ball, and he bricked the third free throw, watching in frustration as Tobias Harris grabbed the defensive rebound.
Harris made his two attempts, and Butler’s running trey rimmed out as time expired on a Detroit win.
Props to the Pistons for concocting that on the fly. The NBA now assesses a delay-of-game violation to shooters who walk beyond the 3-point line between foul shots, but there is no such rule about defensive players disconcerting the shooter between free throws. Jackson’s slick improvisation is in the same vein of yelping insufferably anytime a game of 21 is on the line or icing a field-goal kicker.
This is what happened to Jimmy Butler mentally when Reggie Jackson interrupted his free throw shooting routine. pic.twitter.com/CZA3vzBFww
— DJ Dunson (@CerebralSportex) November 20, 2017
Clutch free-throw shooters around the league may have nightmares if this becomes a trend. In the short term, after two straight losses to end last week, Detroit’s mind game win over Minnesota helped the Pistons (11-5) keep pace with the Toronto Raptors for second place in the Eastern Conference.