ORLANDO • Jimmy Butler insisted that even with two key starters hurt and two double-digit defeats in the books, the Miami Heat were not done in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
On Sunday, he showed it, delivering a 40-point triple-double in the Heat’s 115-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers that cut the deficit in the best-of-seven championship series to 2-1.
“Phenomenal,” was the verdict of LeBron James.
The Lakers superstar should know. In his 10th trip to the showpiece series, he was outscored, out-rebounded and out-assisted for the first time in a Finals game.
Butler completed his first career play-off triple-double with 13 assists and 11 rebounds, and he did so on 70 per cent shooting, without attempting a single three-pointer, while guarding James.
“How else do you say it other than Jimmy ‘effing Butler,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the third player in Finals history to score 40 points in a triple-double after James and Lakers legend Jerry West.
“This was a very urgent game, and he was doing it on both ends of the court. Just put his imprint on every important part of the game.”
The Heat, seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference, have already exceeded expectations by reaching the title series, in which they have been hobbled since starting centre Bam Adebayo (neck) and point guard Goran Dragic (foot) went down with injuries in Game 1.
Butler, not one to throw in the towel, said effort was the key to bouncing back and making a series of it despite the absence of his teammates.
“You’ve got to empty the tank on every possession,” he said after playing 45 minutes for the second straight game. “We’re going to lay it all out there on the floor.”
Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Herro did their part for Miami at the NBA bubble in Disney World with 17 points apiece.
STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE
How else do you say it other than Jimmy ‘effing Butler? This was a very urgent game, and he was doing it on both ends of the court.
ERIK SPOELSTRA , Miami Heat coach, on his All-Star forward shouldering both the offensive and defensive load in the injury-enforced absence of teammates Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo.
The Heat also changed their defence on Anthony Davis, who dominated the first two games of the series. They double-teamed him early, forcing him to pass. The forward did not have a shot attempt in the first quarter. Davis was also saddled by early foul trouble, scoring just 15 points.
James had a team-high 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Markieff Morris and Kyle Kuzma each had 19 points off the bench, though Los Angeles were plagued by 20 turnovers.
“We know that we can’t turn the ball over versus this team,” said James, who was responsible for eight and walked off the court with about 10 seconds left on the clock.
“It starts with myself, being the starting point guard for the team.”
Spoelstra said there was no timeline as yet for a possible return by either Adebayo or Dragic. Game 4 will take place today.
In the meantime, Butler says he will shoulder whatever load he needs to, for the sake of his teammates on the floor – and for those sidelined by injury.
“I go out there and I go to war for those guys because whenever they’re out there, they’re going to war with and for me,” he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS