The undermanned Miami Heat shocked the NBA world by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 115-104 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night to cut the Lakers' series lead to 2-1. Jimmy Butler was simply breathtaking, notching a triple-double with 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.
The Heat were the aggressor from the start, with Butler setting the tone early by dominating both ends of the floor. In the absence of Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, Miami's role players stepped up to keep themselves in the lead for most of the game.
Anthony Davis (15 points, five rebounds) got off to an awful start, getting in early foul trouble while committing several turnovers, but he got things going with 10 points in the third quarter. LeBron James was efficient, putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on 9-for-16 shooting, but committed a couple of traveling violations late in the fourth while the Lakers were attempting to make one final comeback.
The Heat will look to even the series in Game 4 on Tuesday, but first, here are a few takeaways from a stunning Game 3.
1. The Butler did it
When you put yourself in the exclusive company of LeBron James and Jerry West, you know you've done something spectacular. Butler joined them as the only players to notch a 40-point triple-double in the Finals (Butler is the only player to do it in a win), and the Heat needed every point, rebound and assist to pull off the upset. Butler also became the only player to ever outscore, out-rebound and out-assist LeBron in an NBA Finals game.
Butler had a swagger during a pregame interview with Rachel Nichols, and he carried it for all 44 minutes he was on the court.
"Look, how do you -- how else do you say it other than Jimmy effing Butler," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. "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."
In natural Butler fashion, he diminished his statistical accomplishments, saying winning is all that matters.
"I don't care about a triple-double. I don't care about none of that. I really don't," Butler said after the game. "I wanna win. We did that. I'm happy with the outcome."
It's hard to overstate what an incredible performance this was from Butler, who made 14-of-20 field goals and 12-of-14 free throws and didn't take a single 3-pointer in the game. Spoelstra tried to get Butler rest whenever he could, but each time he would come out the Heat struggled massively on offense. Butler created everything all night long, whether it was getting to the rim, hitting pull-up jumpers and fadeaways or finding his teammates for layups or 3s.
This was an absolute signature game for Butler and his legacy, and it gives the Heat all sorts of confidence moving forward in the series, particularly if Adebayo and/or Dragic are able to return at some point.
2. LeBron hits the showers
James was obviously displeased with his team's performance in Game 3, and didn't make much effort to hide it. The Lakers got the ball back after a shot clock violation with 0.7 seconds left in the game, and LeBron was nowhere to be found. It turns out he had already begun his walk back to the locker room, and the Lakers had to enlist Jared Dudley from the bench to ensure they had five players on the court to finish the game.
The frustration didn't seem to be pointed at his teammates, as he admonished himself after the game for the eight turnovers he committed.
"It starts with myself, being the starting point guard of the team, having five first-half turnovers, eight total for the game." James said. "Can't do that, obviously, because it gives them more possessions and doesn't allow us to set our defense. They are really, really good offensively, so you just can't turn the ball over against that team. I take full responsibility for that."
3. Bad night for Davis
Just as we began discussing Anthony Davis' Finals MVP candidacy, he put up one of the worst playoff performances of his career. Davis played seven minutes in the first quarter -- he scored zero points, committed four turnovers and was a minus-13 before he went to the bench with his second foul. After picking up his third foul in the second quarter, Davis got things going a bit after halftime, scoring 10 points in the third, but went scoreless and only took one shot in the fourth quarter.
"I think the foul trouble made him a little passive, because he wanted to be out on the floor but he couldn't be his aggressive self offensively and defensively," James said of Davis after the game. "I think the fouls slowed him down a lot tonight."
The foul trouble was surely an issue, but even when Davis was playing he seemed out of rhythm, turning the ball over and looking hesitant. Credit the Heat defense, which varied its looks on Davis early to force turnovers and generally bad possessions.
4. Boards and the paint
Butler and the Heat have been telling anyone who will listen that the keys to their success are limiting the Lakers' offensive rebounds and keeping them from scoring in the paint. They did a great job of both on Sunday and it clearly worked as intended.
The Lakers only had six second-chance points in Game 3 after scoring 37 combined in the first two games of the series. The Heat also limited the Lakers to 34 points in the paint, compared to L.A.'s playoff average of 48.4. This is the blueprint for beating the Lakers, assuming you can have offensive nights like Miami did on Sunday, but it's easier said than done. The Heat were committed to playing physical and hitting the glass, something they'll need to continue if they're going to win the title.
5. Killer Kelly
While there's no way to fill in for everything Adebayo does on both ends of the court, Kelly Olynyk has been fantastic in the last two games, using his own unique skill set to give the Lakers defense headaches. Olynyk had 17 points, seven rebounds and two steals and hit 3-of-5 3-pointers in Game 3, after putting up 24 points and nine rebounds in Game 2. With Olynyk in the game the Heat can truly play five-out, which has opened up the lane for penetration from Butler and Tyler Herro, and cutting from the perimeter to the basket.
Watch here as Markieff Morris is so concerned with Olynyk at the 3-point line that he leaves Andre Iguodala with a free cut to the basket for a dunk:
Olynyk has been great in Adebayo's absence, and has likely earned himself more playing time even if the All-Star returns for Game 4.