Opinion: Heat star Jimmy Butler backs up big talk with NBA Finals performance for the ages

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jimmy Butler told confidants on Saturday there was no way the Miami Heat were getting swept by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Butler backed it up with one of the most special performances in NBA Finals history.

The Heat All-NBA forward scored 40 points, supplied 13 assists and corralled 11 rebounds in Miami’s 115-104 victory over the Lakers in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday.

"How else do you say it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "other than Jimmy effing Butler."

Add two steals and two blocks in a defensive performance that warrants attention for his work on LeBron James, who scored 25 points but just nine in the second half.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on the incredible performance of “Jimmy F’ing Butler” in Game 3 of the #NBAFinals. pic.twitter.com/JTuRoXWjLn

Butler, who shot 14-of-20 from the field, was ambivalent about his statistics as usual, but not the outcome.

"We won. I could care less about a triple-double," he said. "We play this game to win. I'm glad my teammates got a lot of trust and faith in me to go out there and hoop like that, but like I always say, you guarantee me a win, I could care less."

But this wasn’t a game where Butler could score 14 points for the Heat to win. They needed that production from him Game 3.

BACK IN IT: Butler's huge triple-double cuts Lakers' lead to 2-1

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Playing without two of their top three players (injured Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic), the Heat were on the verge of 3-0 deficit.

"He's a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it. … Jimmy understands this, that it's going to take whatever is necessary, everything over the top and beyond," Spoelstra said.

This was over the top and beyond because Butler joined James and Jerry West as the only players to record a 40-point triple-double in Finals history.

He scored or assisted on 73 of Miami’s points, tied for second-most in a Finals game behind Walt Frazier (74).

He became the first player to outrebound, outscore and out-assist James in a Finals game.

According to @EliasSports Jimmy Butler scored or assisted on 73 points, tied for the 2nd-most in an NBA Finals game in league history. (Walt Frazier, 74)

Butler is the first player with a 40-point Finals game without attempting a three since Shaquille O’Neal in 2002. pic.twitter.com/mPcQpFrOtU

"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."

Butler played 45 minutes in Game 2 on Friday. On Saturday night, Butler went to one of the makeshift gyms in the ballroom of a Disney hotel and shot for an hour.

Then, he played 45 in Game 3, including all but 55 seconds of the second half. He is indefatigable.

"He's in the top percentile of this entire association in terms of conditioning and you saw he just got stronger as the game went on," Spoelstra said.

That’s a Butler trademark from his earlier NBA days with the Chicago Bulls under now-New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

Butler made 12 of his 14 foul shots, including a 9-for-10 mark in the second half and all four in the fourth quarter with the Lakers attempting a comeback. He was hammered and knocked to the ground hard twice. He got up and made his free throws.

Jimmy Butler said he was calling back something LeBron James said to him earlier in the game when he was caught on camera late in the contest saying the Lakers were “in trouble.”

“Competition at it’s finest,” Butler said. pic.twitter.com/DIT6oOJWuO

That effort is made possible because of Butler’s offseason workouts that include 4 a.m. wakeup calls, hours with weights, conditioning drills and early bed times.

"My trainer James Scott does a great job of making sure that I'm strong enough to play through contact and just be conditioned," Butler said. "That's what we do here in the Heat. We pride ourselves on that and I love it. I love the work and I tell coach all the time, I'm ready for this. Like the biggest stage, whatever you ask me to do, I can do."

Butler, who accounted of 24 of Miami's 30 fourth-quarter points, made his final bucket on a layup with 1:15 left. He had Jae Crowder set a screen so that Markieff Morris defended him instead of James. After he scored, he turned to James and said, "You’re in trouble."

"I'm not just out there talking trash because I'm not," Butler said. "LeBron said that to me at the end of the first. That's what happened. I just said it to him in the fourth quarter."

It was all part of normal back and forth between two stars.

Are the Lakers concerned after dropping Game 3 of the #NBAFinals? Hardly.

“We know we can play a lot better,” LeBron James said. “We have another opportunity to take a commanding lead on Tuesday. So, we relish that opportunity.” pic.twitter.com/iB0ZL00hIc

"Love it. Love it," James said. "One of the best competitors we have in our game. We love that opportunity. I don't know how many more opportunities I'm going to have, so to be able to go against a fierce competitor like that is something I'll look back on when I'm done playing. I'll miss those moments."

James eliminated Butler’s team from the Eastern Conference playoffs during his eight consecutive trips to the Finals with Miami and Cleveland.

"That's competition at its finest. I think LeBron has got the best of me way too many times," Butler said. "I respect the guy for it, but this is a different time now, a different group of guys that I have around me, and we are here to win, we are here to compete. But we're not going to lay down, we're going to fight back in this thing, even it up 2-2."

Another vow from Butler to win a game in this series.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

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