Against all odds, the Miami Heat have managed to make the NBA Finals a series.
Jimmy Butler was the best player on the court opposite LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and his Heat outworked their Los Angeles Lakers in a 115-104 win that trimmed Miami’s series deficit to 2-1.
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The victory comes with the hope that injured Heat stars Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic can return before their season is over. Both are desperate to play after respective neck and foot injuries cost them a second straight game.
“They can be beat, as long as we do what we’re supposed to do” Butler told ESPN afterwards.
“Come the next game, I know they’re going to be so much better, and we’ve got to be able to match that energy.”
Butler logged his first career playoff triple-double with 40 points on 20 shots, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. He added two blocks and two steals, primarily defending James. It was a master class in the will to win.
“How else do you say it but Jimmy f---ing Butler?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters following the must-win victory.
“This is what he wanted. This is what we wanted. It’s really hard to analyze or describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four lines. He’s a supreme competitor, and we need it.”
Only James and Jerry West had previously posted a 40-point triple-double in a Finals game.
Asked what his mindset was in a defining effort, Butler added, “Win. I don’t care about a triple-double. I don’t care about none of that. I really don’t. I want to win. We did that. I’m happy with the outcome.”
Truly a masterpiece from Jimmy— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) October 5, 2020
Butler became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1991 to score at least 32 points and 12 assists in a Finals game.
His 40-point triple double was the eighth triple-double in NBA Finals history, and his 40-points saw him join LeBron James and Jerry West as the only players to score that much in the process.
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Butler’s 40 points matched the combined totals of the two L.A. superstars.
Davis picked up his fourth foul 1:38 into the third quarter and scored just 15 points, his second-lowest total of the playoffs. James finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against eight turnovers, courtesy of Butler’s ball pressure.
He walked off the court with 10 seconds remaining, leaving the Lakers shorthanded to finish the 11-point loss.
How wide is the Lakers’ margin for error against the depleted Heat? Davis finished without a single point or rebound and committed four of his team’s Finals-record 10 turnovers in the opening quarter, and the Lakers still only trailed by three points entering the second stanza.
They tied the game 32 seconds into the second quarter and took the lead inside of two minutes. Another early 13-point advantage squandered by Miami.
The Heat pushed their edge back to 14 on a 10-0 run to start the second half, facilitated by Butler and punctuated by Tyler Herro.
Miami played as well as could be expected without Adebayo and Dragic, outworking a team that did not match their desperation, and yet there L.A. was, recapturing the lead on back-to-back Markieff Morris three-pointers and a Rajon Rondo layup three minutes into the final quarter.
But Butler would not be denied. He scored or assisted on 18 of the Heat’s next 20 points, flipping a 91-89 deficit into a 109-100 lead with 1:13 left that not even James, Davis and the big, bad Lakers could erase.
As both teams retreated to a timeout huddle, Butler could be seen mouthing to James, “You’re in trouble,” repeating what James had told him at the end of the first quarter.
The Lakers do not appear to be worried.
“Trust me,” Davis told reporters, “we’ll be fine.”
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