Jeff Van Gundy Feb 19, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy during the NBA game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports usp ORG XMIT: USATSI-141098 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

After pillaging their way through the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat have hit a road block against the Denver Nuggets, regressing to the tune of 98.3 points per game in the NBA Finals. Facing elimination, the Heat desperately need Jimmy Butler to activate his alter ego “Playoff Jimmy” or risk confetti falling from the rafters Monday night in Denver.

Whether it’s fatigue from a long season, a difficult matchup with Aaron Gordon or the snowball effect of playing heavy minutes on a sprained ankle suffered weeks earlier, Butler hasn’t been himself of late, looking like a diminished version of the dominant force that devoured the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics in rapid succession. While Butler’s injury has no doubt been a factor in Denver jumping out to a 3-1 lead, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy doesn’t want to hear about it, rejecting the premise that Butler’s ankle is the reason Miami hasn’t measured up this series.

“Stop with the excuses,” Van Gundy opined on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “Everybody is hurt. If [Nikola] Jokic doesn’t play great tonight, is it because of his ankle or are we going to give credit to Miami?”

Butler was unstoppable against Milwaukee (37.6 points per game) but hasn’t been anywhere near as effective in subsequent rounds, averaging 22.5 points on pedestrian 42.2-percent shooting over his last 10 games. The 33-year-old might not be 100 percent, but who is at this late juncture in the season?

“It’s just so funny to me in the media how certain guys, when they play well, are cut slack for whatever issues may have occurred and other guys [aren’t]. I get on Mike Breen about this all the time. Like when Steph Curry was in the Finals, every time he missed a shot it was because of his ankle and every time he made a shot it was heroic for overcoming [his] ankle,” said Van Gundy. “To me, if you’re out there, you’re healthy enough. And you should be judged on your performance.”

While Butler’s health can’t be entirely dismissed, even at full strength, it’s hard to see Miami overcoming Denver’s size and skill advantage, looking like the better, more talented team by virtually every metric.

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.