It was the play that, as much as any play in Game 3 between the Lakers and Heat in the NBA Finals on Sunday night, sealed the outcome for Miami. Leading by seven points with just over a minute to play, Heat star Jimmy Butler attacked the paint, putting big man Markieff Morris on his heels. He flipped up a right-handed layup around Morris with 1:13 to play and got it to sink, giving the Heat an insurmountable nine-point lead.
What happened next, as the teams went into a timeout, could be a determining factor in the result of this series: Butler trash-talked LeBron James. “You’re in trouble,” he said.
Butler later explained that James had said much the same thing to him at the end of the first quarter. Turnabout, he figured, was fair play.
James, after the game, said he was happy to have that fire coming from Butler. “Love it,” James said. “Love it. One of the fiercest competitors we have in our game.”
Indeed, he was right, as the Heat cruised to victory from there. Butler put up a monster night for himself, scoring 40 points with 11 rebounds and 13 assists. That performance is worthy of some context. James scored 25 points with 10 rebounds and eight assists (plus eight turnovers) and that marked the first time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Marc Spears) that anyone has topped James in all three categories in an NBA playoff game.
Butler also scored or assisted on 73 points, which ties for second all-time behind Walt Frazier in 1970.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra: ‘Jimmy F-ing Butler’
After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra offered his view on what Butler accomplished in a game in which the Heat already were staring at a 2-0 deficit with two of their Top 3 players—Goran Dragic (foot) and Bam Adebayo (neck)—out because of injuries.
“What else can you say,” Spoelstra said to begin his media session, “other than Jimmy F-ing Butler?”
Well said. Spoelstra went on to explain that when Butler signed with the Heat as a free agent last summer, this was the kind of game the team expected from him—and the kind of game he expected to Heat to put him into.
“This is what he wanted,” Spoelstra said. “This is what we wanted. It’s really hard to analyze and describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four line. He is a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it. Obviously, this was a very desperate, urgent game.”
LeBron James Has Beaten Butler in Playoffs Twice
Butler, who is known as a guy willing to run his mouth on the floor, was happy to indulge in a bit of back-and-forth yapping with James, especially because it came in a win. Butler and James have had their battles over the years, and have gone head-to-head twice in the playoffs.
James has won both series—the 2015 Eastern Conference finals when Butler was with the Bulls and James with the Heat, and the 2013 East semifinals. Butler has revenge in mind and has to hope that the kerfuffle with James can throw him off his game a bit going forward.
“It’s competition at its finest,” Butler said. “I think LeBron has got the best of me way too many times. I respect the guy for it. This is a different time now, a different group of guys that I have around me. We’ll get the win.”
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James tipped his cap to Butler. “I thought Jimmy was phenomenal,” James said. “He did everything they needed for them tonight and came through big time in a big-time game.”
Game 4 figures to a big-time game, too. Both Dragic and Adebayo were hopeful they could return for Game 3 and will probably be aiming for a Game 4 return. It might be a stretch to say the Lakers, who still have a 2-1 lead in this series, are in trouble after what happened in Game 3. But they’re certainly in more trouble than they were back in the first quarter when James initiated the trash talk with Butler.