Jimmy Butler put his stamp on Game 3 of the NBA Finals from start to finish on Sunday.
The Miami Heat star’s 40 points on 14-for-20 shooting, 11 rebounds and 13 assists sparked the injury-plagued club in a 115-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Butler, who played a game-high 45 minutes, also provided two steals and two blocks for Miami.
With the victory, the Heat cut the Lakers’ lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1 at Walt Disney World.
Up next: Game 4 is on Tuesday.
In addition to Jimmy Butler’s headline-grabbing performance, teammates Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Herro poured in 17 points apiece, while Duncan Robinson contributed 13 and Jae Crowder added 12.
Perspective from Jimmy Butler
Looking at the magnitude of Game 3 for his team after losing the first two games of the Finals, Jimmy Butler told reporters: “I don’t care about triple-doubles. … I really don’t. I want to win. We did that. I’m happy with the outcome.”
The Marquette University product was locked in and laser-focused, and it showed from the get-go.
He put 19 points on the board in the first half along with six assists.
Jimmy Butler also made 11 of 12 free throws in the win.
As a result, he became the third player in NBA Finals history to notch a 40-point triple-double, joining the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James (2015) and the Lakers’ Jerry West (1969).
Strong start for Butler, Heat
After Olynyk drained two free throws with 4:16 left in the first quarter, the Heat led 22-9.
The Lakers, however, answered with a spirited run to pull within 26-23 on a Kyle Kuzma buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close out the opening stanza.
Though they only trailed 58-54 at halftime, the Lakers did an abysmal job taking care of the ball in the first quarter. Coach Frank Vogel’s team had 10 turnovers in the opening quarter, and stared at a three-point deficit entering the second period.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis had a combined 13 turnovers in Game 3, with LeBron finishing with eight.
“It wasn’t about effort. It was just about execution, but again credit their defense,” Vogel said. “They played a terrific game, forced a lot of those turnovers. We’ll look at the tape and see how we can be better.”
With Jimmy Butler attacking the basket relentlessly, the Heat thrived inside. They finished with a 52-34 overall vantage in points in the paint.
Conversely, Davis acknowledged that the Lakers had a poor shooting performance from close range.
“We missed a lot of shots at the rim, honestly,” Davis said. “You know, once again, we had shots open in the perimeter and when we make our shots from the perimeter, it opens up the paint for us. Tonight we didn’t do a good job of that.”
Key stretch for Lakers
Although Los Angeles was 83-71 with 2:10 to play in the third, LeBron and company mounted comeback fueled by a 20-6 run bridging the final two periods.
Rajon Rondo converted a layup with 8:55 remaining that cut the margin to 91-89.
But the Heat were too strong down the stretch, with Jimmy Butler sealing the victory with an 8-foot jumper with 1:10 left. That made it 109-100.
Lakers’ leading performers
After combining for 65 points in Game 2, James and Davis had a combined 40 in Sunday’s contest. James had 25 points, 10 boards and eight assists. Davis was held to 15 points. Backups Markief Morris and Kuzma both scored 19. Morris sank five 3-pointers and Kuzma canned four.
Davis made 15 of 20 shots in Game 2; he was 6-for-9 in Game 3.
Praise for Jimmy Butler
Without injured starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo in the lineup, Butler picked up the slack, and rookie teammate Herro said the star did what was expected from him.
“We know how Jimmy is in these moments, and the world has seen what Jimmy Butler is capable of and he just played tremendous for us,” Herro said. “He did everything, obviously. Ran the offense all the way through him, made play after play, bucket after bucket. And defensively guarding LeBron, making it tough on him, and just being a leader out there and we were all following him. Obviously, we’re going to need that from him for the next three.”
Erik Spoelstra’s analysis
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his team played with a sense of urgency in Game 3, rising to the challenge after back-to-back losses.
“You have to do whatever is necessary,” Spoelstra said of Jimmy Butler and his teammates. “It’s a 48-minute game for a reason. You have to be able to compete at a high level and there’s a lot of ups and downs during the course of it. I liked it and I really wanted to see how we were going to respond. We have been in those moments in Games 1 and 2, they were too fleeting and we didn’t respond that well enough. This is elite competition both ways and we responded to it better tonight.”