I was supposed to write about Doc Rivers taking over the coaching reins in Philadelphia and other head coaching changes in the Association. But scrap that! Not after Jimmy Butler willed the Miami Heat to a pulsating Game 3 win yesterday against the Los Angeles Lakers, who everyone had all but crowned champions of the 2020 NBA season.
Not that I blame Lakers and LeBron James fans as the South Beach Boys seemed down and out, having lost the first two games in blowout fashion and missing two starters in Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, the former an all-star this year and the latter a year before.
I turned on SportsCenter the past couple of days and the talking heads there all but ceded the Larry O’Brien trophy to the Purple & Gold as if the only thing missing were the yellow tape signaling a trophy presentation and champagne being rolled into the Lakers’ locker room. Last time I checked the NBA Finals was still a best-of-seven series.
LeBron and the Anthony Davis have also been anointed as the second coming of Shaq and Kobe, minus the beef of course (but it’s too early so you’d never know). They weren’t talking anymore about what the Heat needed to do to get back in the series, but already counting how many championships LeBron and AD can bring to the City of Angels (not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6…).
Jimmy Butler and company wouldn’t have any of that though, obviously taking a cue from coach Erik Spoelstra who famously cursed when asked what the Heat’s chances were after starting the NBA Finals on a 0-2 hole. Going into Game 3, coach Spo’s “We don’t give a s— what everybody else thinks” outburst was clearly on Butler’s mind as he just wouldn’t let Miami go down without a fight. The five-time all-star was on a mission right from the get-go specially after The King trash-talked to him that the Heat were in trouble during an exchange in the first quarter.
Instead of first involving his teammates as he often does—which some say is a knock in his game—Butler was in attack mode early and often as Miami erected a lead of as much 14 points. It also helped that AD picked up three early fouls, as he and the Lakers had trouble with the new Miami zone that had the Heat’s smaller players guard the perimeter as opposed to them manning the frontcourt as was the strategy in the first two games.
With Davis neutralized, the Heat would continue to lead in the second and third quarters, that’s until The King decided to finally take charge. LeBron, with some help from Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris, would lead a Lakers rally and they even took a 2-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
But Butler would rise to the occasion after seeing the Heat go down, scoring 10 points and assisting on crucial 3-point makes by Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson down the stretch to help the Heat get back into the driver’s seat and ultimately stave off any attempts at a successful response by LeBron and company.
The former Marquette star clearly outplayed LeBron in this one, completing an amazing 40-point triple double (40 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) in 45 minutes of action. In doing so, Butler became just the third player in NBA Finals history to record a 40-point triple double and the first to do so on the winning side. The other two were no other than LeBron himself in 2015 against the Golden State Warriors and Laker great Jerry West against the Boston Celtics in 1969.
Not bad for a player who was homeless as a child and had go to Tyler Junior College before transferring to Marquette.
So, it was just fitting that Butler barked back at Lebron in the waning seconds of Game 3 that the Lakers were the ones in trouble, perhaps teasing that Adebayo may be back for Game 4 after a neck strain kept him out of the last two games. I’m not too optimistic of Gogi returning though, as the Slovenian point guard’s torn plantar fascia on the left foot may not be healing as quickly.
With or without Adebayo, the Lakers may still take Game 5 and go up with a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Everyone should learn their lesson though to never again count out Butler and the Heat. Butler has been counted out all his life. Do so at your own peril as the player they call Jimmy Buckets may just prove you wrong, again.