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SALT LAKE CITY – The Salt Lake City Stars hosted their home opener on Wednesday night in a fast-paced, high-intensity competition against the Santa Cruz Warriors.
It turned out to be a dramatic buzzer-beater finish, with 2021 Utah Jazz draft pick Jared Butler hitting the game winner with 0.6 seconds left to seal a 104-102 victory. Butler demonstrated why he was selected in this year's draft and what kind of potential he possesses for the Jazz in the future.
While the Stars trailed for a majority of the night, courtesy of a massive run during the second quarter with Butler sidelined, the Stars continued to fight. Down the stretch, Butler hit several key baskets, including an isolation game-winner for the home team's victory.
"It's a game of runs," Butler said. "It's a long game and you still gotta believe, have faith, and still get stop after stop. You even see it with the Jazz, we could be down 20 and get back in the game, you know, basketball is just that way."
Despite his overall performance, Butler started a little shaky and missed a few wide open floaters, which had the rookie guard frustrated. But he looked to attack in other ways and knocked down several 3-pointers and assisted on a few others to help his team.
By the end of the first quarter, Butler led the Stars with 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field as the Stars trailed Santa Cruz 28-27.
Without Butler on the court, the Stars' offense dried up. Over the course of a seven-minute period in the second quarter, in which the offense lacked creativity and came to a halt with no ball movement, the Stars went without a field goal and found themselves in a major hole following a 21-0 run by the Warriors.
But the Stars got some life back in the third quarter when Butler came out firing. He, along with Elijah Hughes, led the team on a 14-6 run to cut into Santa Cruz's lead. By the end of the quarter, the Stars outscored the Warriors 26-21 and trailed by six going into the fourth quarter.
Just as Butler had done all night, he remained composed and the final quarter was his for the taking.
Butler entered the game late in the fourth with his team trailing 93-90 and orchestrated several key buckets to keep the Stars in the game and set the team up for victory at the end. Butler made several blow-by layups, a few clutch free throws and even fade-away jumper off of one foot that resulted in an and-one opportunity, which he calmly converted.
On the final possession of the game, with the shot clock turned off and the score tied 102-102, Butler went isolation against Santa Cruz. He gathered, gave a little shoulder fake to get the defender off of his feet, and then laid it in for 2 points to win the game.
"I think the most important thing was making sure we had the last shot," Butler said. "It was a tie game, five minutes, we would go overtime; if I make it we win. So my instincts took over, just tried to get it in the paint. I knew he was going to fall for the shot fake and it went."
Butler finished the night with 30 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and was +18 on the floor.
"That's what he does," Hughes said of Butler. "I've played five-on-five, three-on-three, all that kind of stuff with him and he scores the ball. He's a big time performer, competitor, and he's a winner. And he's proven it; y'all seen what happened at Baylor and he's a winner, so this is stuff I see every day."
Butler can play the game of basketball. Whether it's orchestrating the offense, knocking down 3's, driving the lane or finding an open teammate, he can play the game at an elite level, and it's easy to see why he was Utah's primary target during the 2021 draft.