Jimmy Butler drove to the basket, got decked by Rajon Rondo, crashed to the floor and appeared shaken up. When he finally got up, Butler had a few choice words for Rondo.
And a grin.
Even if it means taking the occasional hard foul, Butler loves hard-fought competitive basketball. He played this way with third-stringers in a Timberwolves practice. He’ll darned sure play this way in the NBA Finals.
Butler had 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds – a stat line unmatched in NBA Finals history – in the Heat’s Game 3 win over the Lakers on Sunday. He defended LeBron James and just did everything necessary to help trim Miami’s series deficit to 2-1.
“How else do you say it other than Jimmy effing Butler?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“It’s really hard to analyze or describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four lines. He’s a supreme, elite competitor.”
Butler is a superstar. Has been for years. It seemed he might have slipped a touch last season as he approached 30, but he played his best for the 76ers in the playoffs then carried that production into Miami.
He has only elevated his game further this postseason.
After posting 25 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in Game 2, Butler became the third player with a 40-point triple-double in the Finals. Unlike Jerry West (42 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds in 1969) and LeBron (40 points, 11 assists and 14 rebounds in 2015), Butler won with his 40-point triple-double.
Butler played 45 minutes tonight, and Miami needed nearly all of them. The Heat got outscored by nine points in the three minutes he sat.
Offensively and defensively, Butler asserted himself. He drew 14 free throws (making 12) with strong attacks and, once defenders got off balance, crafty moves. He had two blocks and two steals and helped frustrate LeBron into eight turnovers.
After scoring a late bucket, Butler looked at LeBron and said, “You’re in trouble.”
Butler clarified he was merely echoing LeBron’s first-quarter trash talk – not starting a feud. Even Butler knows this isn’t the time for that. The Heat are still down, and LeBron is still LeBron.
But Butler bought more time for Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic to recover from their injuries. A few hours ago, a Miami championship seemed nearly impossible. It’s still unlikely, but there’s at least a visible path now.
Of course, Butler wants that title. Winning drives him.
Yet, if nothing else, he’ll always have this legendary performance.
On the biggest stage, his back against the wall and everyone doubting his team… Jimmy Butler went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and won.