Players who have posted a 40-point triple-double in the NBA Finals: Jerry West. LeBron James. Jimmy Butler.
That’s it. That’s the list.
With his Miami Heat short-handed, and as good as swept in the minds of some, Butler authored a Finals performance for the ages Sunday night. He joined West and James in that exclusive achievement while leading the Heat to a 115-104 Game 3 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“How else do you say it other than Jimmy F'n Butler?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team pulled within 2-1 in the series despite playing without the injured Goran Dragić and Bam Adebayo for the second straight game. “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 an elite, top percentile competitor.”
Logging 45 minutes, Butler finished with 40 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He shot 14-for-20, making it only the seventh time in NBA history that a player logged 40-point triple-double with 70 percent field-goal shooting or better.
Oh, and he guarded James for long stretches as well. James notched 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, leading the Lakers in all three categories. Still, Butler became the first person to outscore, rebound and assist James in a Finals game, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“Jimmy was phenomenal,” James said.
Butler’s 40-point triple double is the first in NBA Finals history for a winning team. James’ triple-double for the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the 2015 Finals came in a loss to the Golden State Warriors. West’s triple-double for the Lakers came in a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in 1969.
Butler didn’t attempt a 3-pointer but knocked down 12 of 14 free throws, repeatedly driving hard and drawing hard contact despite his heavy workload. According to Elias, it’s the first Finals game in which a player scored 40 points without attempting a 3 since Shaquille O’Neal in 2002.
Also per to Elias, Butler scored or assisted on 73 of the Heat’s points. That's tied for the second-highest output in a Finals game behind Walt Frazier’s 74 points.
Any way you slice it, it’s special stuff.
“The world is seeing what Jimmy Butler is capable of,” Heat rookie Tyler Herro said.
In his postgame media session, Butler confirmed he repeated back to James what James shouted during the first quarter about the opponent being in trouble.
"That is what I said," Butler replied when asked if he shouted "You're in trouble" back at James during the fourth quarter.
Suddenly, it’s a series, particularly if the Heat can return Dragić and Adebayo for Tuesday’s Game 4.
“It’s competition at its finest. I think LeBron has got the best of me way too many times. I respect the guy for it. But this is a different time,” Butler said. “We’re here to compete.”
For anyone wondering how Butler would handle his first appearance on the sport’s biggest stage, how do these numbers look? Through three Finals games, Butler is averaging 29.3 points, 10.3 assists, seven rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 58 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90.3 percent from the line.
And his team is back in the mix.
“I could care less about the triple double. We play this game to win. We won,” Butler said. “Everybody remembers winning. That’s it.”