It ain’t over yet.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles’ Lakers march to the NBA championship was derailed on Monday when a Jimmy Butler masterclass carried the Heat to a 115-104 win in Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Florida.
Watch every single game of the The NBA Finals LIVE on ESPN with Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >
Fuelled by a 40-point triple-double from Butler, Miami clawed their way to their first win of the series heading into Game 4 on Wednesday (AEDT).
The under-manned, under-sized, underdog Heat turned the tables on the Western Conference champions, cutting the deficit in the best-of-seven championship series to two games to one.
It was a devastating result for the Lakers that clearly rattled superstar James.
He walked off the court with 10 seconds still to play.
On a night when he was outgunned by Butler, James’ greatest anguish was saved for the very end when Butler refused to shoot the ball and accepted a 24-second violation that caught James out for walking off the floor early.
In a cheeky trolling tactic, Butler’s decision to hold onto the ball meant the Lakers had to sub on a new player for the final dying seconds because James was already halfway to the locker room.
The running battle between James and Butler was absolutely box office.
While James was criticised for his early exit, the former Cleveland star said he is not concerned.
When asked if it was frustration or losing track of the clock that saw him leave the game early, James said: “Both”.
“We know that we can’t turn the ball over against this team,” James said of the team’s struggles.
“I take full responsibility for that.”
NBA TV commentator Mark Jackson said James sent a poor message to his team by leaving early.
“You gotta be on the court. This is not a good look,” he said.
Butler earlier gave it to James in their running trash-talk duel.
He smiled in James’ direction when he got by James and finished with a nice floater in the first half.
He was also heard saying to James down the stretch: “You’re in trouble”.
Butler confirmed in his post-match press conference that it is exactly what he said.
James finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists as Anthony Davis managed just 15 points.
Butler was freakish — and James knows it.
“I thought Jimmy was phenomenal.,” James said.
“He did everything that they needed him to do tonight and he came through big time in a big-time game. We’ll watch film and see ways we can be better going into Game 4. But I thought he was great.”
Butler scored 40 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and handed out 13 assists to power a Heat team missing injured Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic for the second straight game.
The injuries to Adebayo and Dragic were a huge blow to the Eastern Conference fifth-seeded Heat’s hopes of pulling off a title upset, but Miami, with Butler leading the way, declined to back down.
“They continued to make shots,” James said. “We had some turnovers, we didn’t make shots. They came out and executed after we took the lead.
“Jimmy had his hand in all those plays, pretty much,” added James, who said Butler was “phenomenal.
“He did everything that they needed him to do tonight and he came through big-time in a big-time game,” James said.
Butler added two blocks and two steals as he did a stellar job defending James, but said individual numbers are meaningless at this stage.
“Win,” he said of his total focus in game three, a mission no doubt sharpened by the knowledge that no NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
“I don’t care about the triple-double, I don’t care about none of that, I really don’t. I want to win. We did that, I’m happy with the outcome.”
Butler’s freakish performance saw him become just the third player in NBA Finals history to have a 40-point triple-down, joining James (2015) and Jerry West (1969).
Rookie sensation Tyler Herro and reserve Kendrick Nunn added 17 points apiece for the Heat. Duncan Robinson scored 13 and Jae Crowder chipped in 12 for Miami.
— with AFP