The Miami Heat entered Sunday night desperate for a win. But with Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo injured, that put the pressure on Jimmy Butler to carry an undermanned squad. Facing a healthy Los Angeles Lakers team that already won the first two games of the NBA Finals in convincing fashion, the Heat needed a heroic performance from their biggest star. And boy did Butler deliver.
In fact, his record-setting night saved Miami from suffering a cruel finals fate. And now, the Heat have a chance to tie the series on Tuesday as Dragic and Adebayo fight to return to the lineup.
Miami struggled in the first two games of the NBA Finals
After taking down the Boston Celtics in six games, the Miami Heat looked to carry that momentum into the NBA Finals. However, the Lakers’ dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis had other plans.
In Game 1, James posted 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists on 52.9% shooting. Davis showcased why he’s considered one of the top-five players in basketball with a game-high 34 points.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. However, the rest of Miami’s starting lineup failed to provide much of a scoring punch. To make matters worse, both Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo—two of the team’s top players—sustained injuries in the 116-98 loss.
The former suffered a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. The latter sustained a neck injury that robbed the Heat of one of the NBA’s most exciting young big men.
Without Dragic and Adebayo in the lineup, the Heat dropped the second game of the NBA Finals. Butler once again led the team in scoring (25 points), but another monster night from the James-Davis duo left Miami in a dire position heading into the third game of the series.
Jimmy Butler just saved the Heat from suffering a cruel NBA Finals fate
It may have not been an official elimination game, but in reality, Sunday’s showdown between the Heat and the Lakers served as one. After all, no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. With that cruel fate looming, Jimmy Butler took his game to another level in order to save his team’s season.
In one of the most dominant performances in NBA playoff history, the 31-year-old carried the Heat to a hard-fought 115-104 win. The Lakers had no answer for Butler on either end of the floor. Playing with an aggressive edge, the 6-foot-7 wing racked up 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. In doing so, Butler joined James and Jerry West as the only players to ever record a 40-point triple-double in an NBA Finals game.
For the Heat, Butler’s performance saved them from a cruel fate. Falling behind 3-0 would have essentially ended the series. After all, it seems next to impossible that James would lose four consecutive finals games given his postseason experience and fierce determination to add a fourth championship ring to his collection. Now, though, Miami has a chance to even the series on Tuesday.
Can the injury-ravaged Heat even the series against a healthy Lakers team?
Jimmy Butler extended the Heat’s season by at least a game. On Tuesday, Miami can even the series and put all the pressure on LA the rest of the way. But can the Heat achieve that with a lineup ravaged by injuries?
Miami needs better performances from its role players in Game 4. In particular, Robinson and Herro have to rediscover the form that gave the Celtics nightmares in the Eastern Conference finals.
Against Boston, Robinson shot 37.9% from 3-point territory. So far, he has hit just five of his 20 attempts from behind the arc in the NBA Finals.
Herro has also fallen back down to Earth after looking like a future star in the last series. Boston struggled to contain the 20-year-old rookie, who shot 51% from the floor and 34.9% from 3-point territory.
However, after averaging nearly 20 points per game against the Celtics, Herro has averaged 16 points on 36.1% shooting against the Lakers. Like Robinson, the University of Kentucky product has made only five 3-pointers through the first three games of the NBA Finals.
Ultimately, with Dragic and Adebayo dealing with injuries, Miami needs Robinson and Herro to find the shooting stroke that made them so lethal against the Celtics.
Jimmy Butler may have saved the Heat’s season on Sunday, but not even he can carry the team to a championship without some help.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.