NBA

NBA Finals: Jimmy Butler's outstanding Game 3 display in Stats Perform numbers

By Sports Desk October 05, 2020

The Miami Heat are back in the NBA Finals. Thanks, Jimmy Butler.

A sweep looked to be well and truly on the cards. Miami were without center Bam Adebayo and point guard Goran Dragic again in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers, which they went into 2-0 down.

They needed Butler to step up. He answered the call emphatically, changing the complexion of the series significantly ahead of Game 4 on Tuesday.

The five-time All-Star scored 40 points together with 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a determined, gritty 45 minutes on the floor, bringing the Heat back from the brink.

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

"But this is what he wanted, this is what we wanted. It's really hard to analyse or describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four lines.

"He's a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it."

Among the greats

Butler became only the third player with a 40-point triple-double in Finals history and the first to get one in a winning effort. It was also the first time the Lakers have seen an opponent register a 40-point triple-double against them in playoff history.

The nine-year forward spent much of the second half guarding LeBron James, whose playmaking abilities helped Frank Vogel's side twice erase double-digit deficits and even move in front in the fourth quarter.

James is bidding to win his fourth ring against his former team but Butler made sure he will not waltz to the championship by joining LeBron (four) as the only Heat players with 40-point triple-doubles in the playoffs.

Butler's 40-point haul represents the joint-fifth most scored in the Finals while down 2-0 or 3-0, while it was the biggest in a triple-double when trailing by either of those scores.

Dominating in the paint

The Heat struggled to control Anthony Davis and James in the paint during the first two games but Butler turned that narrative on its head on Sunday.

He scored 24 of his 40 points in the paint, a total only bettered in the Finals since play-by-play data became available by LeBron (30 in 2017 Game 5 and 26 in 2018 Game 1) and Kyrie Irving (26 in 2017 Game 1).

Butler also made 12 free throws, the sixth time this postseason he has been in double digits from the stripe – more than any other player.

"In terms of the physicality, this is why Jimmy prepares the way he does that is so uncommon, year-round. Just to be able to take on that physicality, to make those plays, to be able to draw fouls and take contact and get up and be able to make those free throws," said Spoelstra.

"It's so settling when you have that type of guy in a really competitive game like this. It allows your other guys, and we're playing young guys, they can just be who they are, they don't have to worry about too much pressure or context.

"They can just be who they are when you have somebody like that that takes on all the pressure for them."

Just like Dwyane

Butler also poured in 40 points against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals – James (2011-12) and Dwyane Wade (2004-05 and 2005-06) are the only other Heat players to have hit that total twice in a single postseason.

There are further parallels between Butler and his fellow Marquette product Wade, too.

Wade scored 42 points in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, which proved to be the first of four straight wins as Miami rallied from 2-0 down to defeat the Dallas Mavericks.

"Obviously this was a very desperate, urgent game and [Butler] was doing it on both ends of the court, just put his imprint on every important part of the game," said Spoelstra.

"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.

"But in terms of you saying a Marquette guy … Dwyane swore to us, he looked Pat [Riley] and I dead in the eye and said, 'This is your guy. This is the next guy.'"

Butler will be hoping to emulate Wade and lead the Heat to glory after a stunning Game 3 display.

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  • Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool

    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

    They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

    Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

  • Nash eyeing championship but warns Nets must improve Nash eyeing championship but warns Nets must improve

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    Harden, an eight-time All-Star, was traded to the Nets from the Houston Rockets on Thursday, joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

    The Nets (7-6) are set to contend for a first NBA championship and Nash said there was a huge opportunity ahead.

    "We want to win a championship, for sure. That's why we made the deal, that's what we're setting out to do," he told a news conference.

    "Having said that, we're so far from that right now so our expectations are to grow every day, to get better, to figure out who we are and what we are and how we fit together and where we can improve. It's a process.

    "You have to earn the right to play for a championship through the regular season and playoffs so those steps are still in front of us before we can say we're a championship team.

    "We're not a team that's running it back that's been to the Finals or Conference Finals even, we're a brand new entity that has to figure it out but that is the end goal and if we take the necessary steps and continue to improve and work towards that and commit to that process, why not? We have a great opportunity here with the players we have."

    With Durant and Harden, the Nets now have two players who have won seven of the past 11 NBA scoring titles. No Brooklyn qualifier has ever finished higher than fifth.

    Irving, Harden and Durant all rank in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring average (minimum 500 games) since the former's rookie season in 2011-12.

    Harden could make his Nets debut against the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

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    LeBron James had a double-double of 21 points and 11 assists as the Lakers recorded a comfortable 112-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

    Kyle Kuzma contributed 11 points and 13 rebounds off the bench, while Anthony Davis struggled from the field, shooting five-of-16 for his 17 points.

    Pelicans star Zion Williamson finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but the Lakers extended their winning streak to five.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo's 31 points and nine rebounds helped the Bucks overcome the Dallas Mavericks 112-109.

    Luka Doncic fell just short of a triple-double, contributing 28 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds in the Mavericks' loss.

    The Bucks (9-4) have won four straight to sit behind the Celtics (8-3) in the Eastern Conference.

    Brown leads returning Celtics, Drummond stars

    Jaylen Brown had 21 points and eight assists in the Celtics' 124-97 win over the Orlando Magic. It was Boston's first game in a week.

    A huge double-double of 33 points and 23 rebounds from Andre Drummond saw the Cleveland Cavaliers edge the New York Knicks 106-103.

    The Los Angeles Clippers thrashed the Sacramento Kings 138-100 thanks to 27 points, six assists and four rebounds from Kawhi Leonard.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted 33 points and 10 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 127-125 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

    Bulls' narrow losses continue

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    Drummond dynamite

    Drummond produced a huge performance for the Cavs. He was 10-of-18 from the field and 16 of his 23 rebounds were on the defensive end.

    Friday's results

    Boston Celtics 124-97 Orlando Magic
    Cleveland Cavaliers 106-103 New York Knicks
    Milwaukee Bucks 112-109 Dallas Mavericks
    Oklahoma City Thunder 127-125 Chicago Bulls
    Utah Jazz 116-92 Atlanta Hawks
    Los Angeles Lakers 112-95 New Orleans Pelicans
    Los Angeles Clippers 138-100 Sacramento Kings

     

    Magic at Nets

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