The Heat wanted this game more than the Lakers.
Nobody wanted it more than Jimmy Butler.
The Lakers came out sloppy — as evidenced by their 10 turnovers in the first 12 minutes — playing like a team that knows it’s more talented and thought it could just pull off their warmups and dominate. Miami came out desperate and hungry despite Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic again being out due to injury.
Jimmy Butler came out fierce. He set up the offense, forced switches into mismatches against lesser Lakers defenders and drove right into them, and then just made plays. He found ways to win.
Butler finished with 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists — he is only the third player ever to have a 40-point triple-double in the NBA Finals (LeBron James and Jerry West).
He doesn’t care about that, he cares about the win — Miami got that, too, 115-104. The Heat still trail in the series 2-1, but they have confidence now. Game 4 is Tuesday night.
“I could care less about a triple-double,” Butler 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.”
“How else do you say it other than Jimmy ‘effing’ Butler,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But 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, elite competitor and we needed it.”
Miami had a good plan in Game 2, but without Adebayo and Dragic they couldn’t execute it against a focused Laker team. Miami played harder and smarter in Game 3.
“We did a good job of that tonight,” Butler said. “We rebounded the basketball, which is what we always talked about. We got back. But I think guys are starting to realize how much we belong on this stage and that we are in The Finals for a reason.”
The Heat also got some help.
Los Angeles, as they did in Game 3 of the Denver series (when they were again up 2-0), felt comfortable and played that way. Despite their attitude, the Lakers trailed by just four at the half and had a lead early in the fourth quarter. The difference was Miami would play harder when the Lakers made a run, while Los Angeles would not.
LeBron James was the one Laker who came out aggressive, and he finished the night with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. However, he also had eight turnovers, and late in the game he too-easily switched off defending Butler on picks, allowing the Heat star to hunt easier matchups.
“We know that we can’t turn the ball over versus this team,” LeBron said postgame, sidestepping the question of the Lakers’ effort and focus. “They are really, really good offensively, so you just can’t turn the ball over against that team. I take full responsibility for that.”
Miami changed its defense on Anthony Davis, doubling him early and often and forcing him to give the ball up — he did not even have a shot attempt in the first quarter. Davis also was in foul trouble and saw his minutes reduced in the first half.
“So it takes away the aggressiveness on both ends of the floor that I’m used to playing with, and those guys like to take charges or whatever, and you know, try to draw offensive fouls,” Davis said of the three fouls in the first half. “It took away the aggressiveness a little bit. Still got to be better and still got to find ways to affect the game on both ends of the floor, but it definitely took me out and put a little bit too much pressure on the other guys.”
He finished with 15 points and did not impact the game enough on either end, as he had the first two games. The Laker bench kept the team in it, with Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris each scoring 19 points (Kuzma also played better on defense and had his best game of the series.
Miami got 17 points and a snarl from Tyler Herro.
Alexa, what is #HEATCulture? pic.twitter.com/SVHTRxIiG2
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) October 5, 2020
Kelly Olynyk had 17 points, and Duncan Robinson added 13 (but on 4-of-12 shooting, he had a rough night).
But in the end, it was Butler’s night.
“He controlled the game – he controls the whole offensive tone,” Jae Crowder said. “Whenever we felt like it was slipping a bit, he controlled the game for us on both ends. It was huge tonight. We rode him out, he led the entire game. He was making plays for himself and making plays for others and made us win tonight.”