Skip the pats on the back for Jimmy Butler, who scored the third-most points (40) in franchise history in the NBA Finals, while becoming the first player to win a game at this stage with a 40-point triple-double Sunday in the Miami Heat’s 115-104 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Butler insists he’s performed better.
“I was really good whenever I was in high school and I played in this league against all 45-year-old men, and really dominated whenever I was like 17,” Butler joked. “This is up there. But back then, I was killing it.”
Jokes aside, that’s got to continue for Butler and the Heat — down 2-1 in this best-of-seven series — for them to truly have a shot Tuesday in Game 4 against a Los Angeles Lakers team “looking forward to the opportunity” according to LeBron James. Miami could still possibly play a third consecutive game without two important cogs in Bam Adebayo (neck strain) and Goran Dragic (torn left plantar fascia).
Both discussed their potential timetables for return as day-to-day.
Butler, meanwhile, prefers to play in a situation where he’s not the focal point, where the Heat are sharing the ball offensively and locked in as a unit on defense. “Those,” the veteran swingman said, “are the best wins.”
Reality might dictate differently, especially if the Heat are forced to play another outing without Adebayo and/or Dragic.
“We don’t care about what he thinks about that right now,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re way past that now. There’s no turning back. He has to make some things happen for us. He did that in a brilliant way last night, and he’ll likely have to do something very similar to that again.
“For us to be able to accomplish what we want to accomplish, you just can’t be normal. You have to be extraordinary. He’s shouldering responsibilities on both sides of the floor. This is what he’s always wanted as a competitor. This is what we want for him. He’s going to continue to get tested and challenged by this competition, and I just love seeing what’s coming out of that competition.”
It’s taxing, for sure.
Butler averages 37.3 minutes in the playoffs, which ranks as his highest postseason time on the floor since 2016-17, when he averaged 39.8 minutes. After playing 33:25 in Miami’s Game 1 loss, he’s upped those totals to 44:45 and 44:51 in the last two games without Dragic and Adebayo to share the load.
Butler racked up a usage rate of 32.7% in Game 3, which ranked as just his third-highest mark of this postseason, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann detailed. Butler held onto the ball for 11.7 minutes in Game 3, according to Second Spectrum tracking, dishing seven of his postseason career-high-tying 13 assists on the Heat’s 12 buckets from deep.
Butler poured in his game-high 40 points without attempting a single 3-pointer.
“If you just constantly try to evaluate him and put him in a box of conventional thinking of basketball, you’re only going to get confused,” Spoelstra said. “He is an elite competitor. It’s attached to how he impacts winning, not this modern-day definition of 3-point percentage, 3-and-D or all these little terms you hear. He’s a throwback. It’s about how he impacts winning, how he impacts your team, your locker room, your culture, your franchise. He does that in a remarkable way.”
But you have to wonder what’s left for Butler to give as this series progresses.
He fired up a game-high 20 shots in Game 3, in addition to taking 14 attempts from the foul line, an indication he’s taking some punishment as Miami’s only star carrying the load against a veteran Lakers squad blessed with two superstars in James and Anthony Davis.
Butler pointed out that his day on Monday consisted of “a lot of rest, a lot of treatment,” while mentioning that for him, the recovery process is mostly mental. Besides that, Butler constantly hears Spoelstra’s voice in his head telling him he’s just fine.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 73 points Butler created from scoring and assists in Game 3 ranked as the second-highest total in Finals history behind Walt Frazier’s 74 in 1970 with the New York Knicks.
“All I can hear is Spo over and over again telling me how I’m not tired,” Butler said. “So, going into it, it’s like you can’t be tired, you can’t be banged up. These guys need you. They’re counting on you. If they see you, that’s how they’re going to be.
“So, to the best of my ability, I’m working on my body. I go in [the training room] this morning, I see Tyler [Herro] in there, I see Duncan [Robinson] in there, I see everybody in there. So I know they’re feeling the same way I am. But they’re getting ready to go again.”
The Lakers are too, especially after watching film of a Game 3 they believe slipped away due to turnovers (20 for 21 Heat points) and miscommunications on defense.
“Credit the Miami Heat,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We were careless in some situations, but I think they took four charges throughout the game, they fronted the post, forced us to make difficult post-entry passes. So, a lot of it was their defense, them being active with their hands. This is what they’re great at, and we didn’t handle it well enough.”
James assured those will mistakes be cleaned up in Game 4, while Davis praised the NBA’s quick turnaround between games, saying he’ll be ready to bounce back from his subpar performance.
“I’m excited we get to play tomorrow night, to go back and help my team try to go up 3-1,” Davis said.
As for Butler, he’ll work his hardest to prevent that as Miami looks to even the series at 2-2.
After Game 4, the teams won’t meet again until Friday for Game 5, which gives both squads plenty of recovery time for the nicks and bruises.
But make no mistake, the game face remains on at all times for Butler. So as expected, he declined to offer any celebratory sales prices at his Big Face Coffee in the aftermath of Miami’s first victory of the series.
“We’re going to do everything the exact same, like we’re supposed to do on the basketball floor,” Butler said. “I always say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna make it to the NBA Finals. I want to play in the NBA Finals. I want to win a championship.’ That time for me is now.”
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