LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra kept saying his team had another level it could reach even without injured center Bam Adebayo and guard Goran Dragic.
No one outside of the Heat organization believed that, but Spoelstra already made it clear how he feels about what anyone else thinks.
Well, the Heat found that level and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 115-104 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Sunday for their first victory in the series.
Miami All-Star Jimmy Butler didn’t want to hear from any naysayers either. It was not a one-man effort, but he was sensational with 40 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds and an indefatigable effort defensively with two steals and two blocks.
Butler scored eight consecutive points late in the fourth quarter, helping Miami pull away. His eight-foot jumper with 1:13 to go put Miami ahead 109-100.
Jimmy (40 PTS, 13 AST & 11 REB) records his first career #NBAPlayoffs triple-double as the Heat take Game 3 😤 pic.twitter.com/HxR6GmACwq
And with that, the Heat added some intrigue to a series that was one-sided through two games and headed toward a sweep. Butler, who had 21 points in the second half, joins LeBron James and Jerry West as the only players to have a 40-point triple-double in the Finals.
"All these experiences prepare you for this, and this is still an incredible opportunity in front of us," Spoelstra said before Game 3. "Our guys are very mentally tough, they love competition. That doesn't change anything in terms of our wanting to compete, wanting to take on the challenge, wanting to play better than we did in the first two games and figure out a way to get over the hump. That's what it's all about and if you're a competitor you absolutely love it."
Game 4 is Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), and while there is no timetable for Adebayo’s return, he worked out on the court before Sunday’s game, indicating he is closer to returning.
Miami led for most of the game and owned a 68-54 lead with 7:54 left in the third quarter — the Lakers’ largest deficit of the Finals. The Lakers trailed 99-95 with 5:41 remaining in the fourth, and Miami withstood everything the Lakers had.
Jimmy Butler did it all for the Heat in Game 3 with 40 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
The Heat played with much better focus and determination, especially defensively. Miami’s Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk each had 19 points.
Sloppy basketball afflicted the Lakers from the opening tip. They committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter, including nine in their first 16 possessions. Lakers stars James and Anthony Davis each had four turnovers.
Davis, who 15 points on just nine shots, struggled for the first time since the Western Conference semifinals. He had zero points and zero field goal attempts in the first quarter and was reduced to the bench with foul trouble.
James had 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris each had 19 points and were a combined 9-for-19 on 3-pointers and compensated for a lackluster effort from Los Angeles’ starters, minus James.
James climbed higher on playoff record lists. Already the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in the playoffs, he passed John Stockton for No. 2 on the all-time playoff assists list and moved ahead of Kevin McHale for No. 6 on the all-time Finals blocked shots list.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
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