Jimmy Butler erupted for 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds to record his first career playoff triple-double, helping the Miami Heat get back into the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 115-104 win Sunday night, and shrinking Los Angeles’ series lead to 2-1.
Still playing shorthanded with all-star Bam Adebayo and starting point guard Goran Dragic both out with injury, the Heat were facing as close to a must-win scenario as possible without being on the verge of elimination, as no team in NBA Finals history has come back from a 3-0 deficit.
Miami got exactly the kind of effort that was needed to keep its championship aspirations alive, playing with far more urgency and desperation than the lackadaisical-looking Lakers.
Here are a few takeaways from a big Heat victory in Game 3 of the Finals.
Here’s something to put the magnitude of Butler’s triple-double into context: He’s just the third player to record a 40-point triple-double in the Finals in league history, joining LeBron James in Game 5 of the 2015 Finals and Jerry West in Game 7 way back in 1969.
That’s pretty good company.
Even more impressive was how efficient he was in doing all his damage, shooting 14-of-20 from the floor, 12-for-14 from the free-throw line and, as a true nod to his throwback-style game, not even taking a single-three-point shot.
Instead, he elected to get all the way to the basket or to slither into open pockets of space 12–15 feet out — usually in the painted area — to put up fadeaways and hooks over defenders he was able to shake loose with his superior footwork.
Butler started the game aggressively, looking to get to his spots and score and facilitate when he was prevented from getting to his pet areas of the floor, and he was rewarded by what was probably the greatest game of his entire life — not that he actually cares about his own individual brilliance, mind you.
“Winning. I don’t care about a triple-double, I don’t care about none of that, I really don’t,” Butler told sideline reporter Rachel Nichols after the game when asked of his magnificent performance. “I want to win. We did that and I’m happy with the outcome.”
Win the Heat certainly did, and they wouldn’t have been able to without Butler.
Lakers superstars falter
After being the talk of the Finals over the first two games and looking like the Finals MVP frontrunner, Anthony Davis was awful in Game 3, scoring 15 points and grabbing just five rebounds on 6-for-9 shooting, while recording a team-worst minus-26 rating on the evening.
James, on the other hand, looked to have another strong game with a 25-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist night, but he disappeared down the stretch when the Lakers needed him most, committing two travelling violations midway through the fourth quarter and proceeding to go 1-for-4 the rest of the way in the frame — and even turning the ball over two more times afterwards.
For the contest, James committed eight turnovers, tying his career-worst mark in the Finals, and his loose handle was indicative of a troubling trend for the Lakers all night long on Sunday as they turned the ball over 20 times total, allowing the Heat to score 21 points off those mistakes.
In particular, the first quarter set the tone for this Los Angeles letdown as the Lakers turned the ball over 10 times for 11 Miami points, with James committing four turnovers alone in that opening frame.
Davis coughed up the rock four times himself in the first quarter and, even worse for the Lakers, he picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, leading to an off night that saw him unable to get into a rhythm because of how much Lakers head coach was forced to sit him.
Regardless of the circumstance, however, the Lakers needed more from their two superstars and the bottom line is on Sunday they didn’t deliver.
Yes, Butler was playing out of his mind, but twice the Lakers cut a 14-point Miami lead in the contest to either take the lead or get back into striking distance and Los Angeles couldn’t get the job done because their two big dogs couldn’t get themselves unleashed.
If the Lakers are to eventually close out this series as most expect they will, they can’t afford slippage like this again from Davis and James.
Heat role players show out
A best-case scenario for the Heat heading into Game 4 would be the return of Adebayo and Dragic to the lineup, their second- and third-best players, respectively.
However, to bank on those two players’ return would be to bank on a serious ‘what if’ and wouldn’t be the most prudent thing to do.
Thankfully, the players who have attempted to fill the void in their absence have made good so far on the increased opportunity and Game 3 was a shining example of this.
After a magnificent 24-point, nine-rebound performance in Game 2, Canadian Kelly Olynyk scored 17 points and collected seven rebounds while going 3-for-5 from three-point range — including a clutch triple with just about eight minutes to play in the fourth to put Miami back up three after Los Angeles had briefly taken the lead a couple possessions beforehand.
Olynyk’s three-point shooting and his all-around offensive skill has proven to be something Heat coach Erik Spoelstra can rely upon in these Finals to give his team a spark, so it’ll be interesting to see how Olynyk will continue to be used should Adebayo manage to return.
And after going just 3-for-13 for 11 points in the first three quarters, Heat rookie Tyler Herro helped close out the win for Miami Sunday, scoring eight in the fourth quarter on 3-for-5 shooting, including a magnificent reverse and-one layup that will surely see the sneer he was caught doing afterwards turn him into a meme legend.
Herro’s confidence in himself is so unwavering it almost seems unfathomable, but with Dragic out of the lineup, they need someone who can get his own shot and is unafraid to launch them — and he certainly fits the bill.
He hasn’t been as efficient as they probably want him to be, but as his fourth-quarter performance in Game 3 showed, he can get hot and fill it up at a moment’s notice, and when he does, the Heat usually benefit greatly.