Jimmy Butler told confidants on Saturday there was no way the Miami Heat were getting swept by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Butler backed it up with one of the most special performances in NBA Finals history. The Heat All-NBA forward scored 40 points, supplied 13 assists and corralled 11 rebounds in Miami’s 115-104 victory over the Lakers in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday. “How else do you say it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “other than Jimmy effing Butler.”
Add two steals and two blocks in a defensive performance that warrants attention for his work on LeBron James, who scored 25 points but just nine in the second half. Butler, who shot 14-of-20 from the field, was ambivalent about his statistics as usual, but not the outcome.
“We won. I could care less about a triple-double,” he said. “We play this game to win. I’m glad my teammates got a lot of trust and faith in me to go out there and hoop like that, but like I always say, you guarantee me a win, I could care less.” But this wasn’t a game where Butler could score 14 points for the Heat to win. They needed that production from him Game 3. Playing without two of their top three players (injured Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic), the Heat were on the verge of 3-0 deficit.
“He’s a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it. … Jimmy understands this, that it’s going to take whatever is necessary, everything over the top and beyond,” Spoelstra said. This was over the top and beyond because Butler joined James and Jerry West as the only players to record a 40-point triple-double in Finals history. He scored or assisted on 73 of Miami’s points, tied for second-most in a Finals game behind Walt Frazier (74). He became the first player to outrebound, outscore and out-assist James in a Finals game. “Jimmy was phenomenal,” James said. “He did everything that they needed him to do tonight and he came through big-time in a big-time game.” Butler played 45 minutes in Game 2 on Friday. On Saturday night, Butler went to one of the makeshift gyms in the ballroom of a Disney hotel and shot for an hour.
Then, he played 45 in Game 3, including all but 55 seconds of the second half. He is indefatigable. “He’s in the top percentile of this entire association in terms of conditioning and you saw he just got stronger as the game went on,” Spoelstra said.
That’s a Butler trademark from his earlier NBA days with the Chicago Bulls under now-New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.
Butler made 12 of his 14 foul shots, including a 9-for-10 mark in the second half and all four in the fourth quarter with the Lakers attempting a comeback. He was hammered and knocked to the ground hard twice. He got up and made his free throws.