Can Jimmy Butler Make the NBA Finals Close Again?

October 5, 2020

After the first two games of the NBA Finals, it looked like the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat was over. With the Lakers up by two games and Miami suffering key injuries, the Heat needed someone to step up to make this series competitive. They received just that in the form of Jimmy Butler. The question now is whether Butler can put a legitimate scare into the Lakers with the title on the line.

At this stage of his career, Jimmy Butler is no longer considered a superstar who can carry a team by himself. While he is the biggest name on the Heat roster, he is not someone who takes a disproportionate number of shots. That is, until game three of this NBA Finals. Butler, who averaged 13 field goal attempts this season, put the ball up 20 times. The results were 40 points, and the first win of the NBA Finals for a desperate Heat team, even if the NBA finals betting picks of most had the Lakers winning easily.

For some perspective, LeBron James and Anthony Davis scored 40 points combined on that night. But Butler did a lot more than score. He recorded a triple-double with 11 rebounds and 13 assists to go with his scoring. On a team missing its starting point guard in Goran Dragic, and its best big man in Bam Adebayo, Butler did his best to assume the role of both in a must-win game.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis scored 40 points combined in game three. Jimmy Butler got there by himself.

Late in the fourth quarter, the offensive game plan for the Heat consisted simply of getting the ball to Butler in the post. Against undersized defenders, and even occasionally LeBron James, Butler used an array of crafty moves to get to the foul line or score from the field. For a player who is often criticized for his lack of a long-range jump shot, Butler was more effective than the sharp shooters on either side of the floor.

Jimmy Butler took 14 free throw attempts in game three. That was more than any other player who participated in the contest. Even LeBron James only took nine shots from the line in the game. Butler’s parade to the free throw line in this game reminded many of Dwyane Wade’s constant trips to the free throw line in the 2006 NBA Finals, when he led the Heat back from a two-game deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in six games. While history is not likely to repeat itself in that regard, the blueprint is certainly there for Butler and Miami.

NBA Finals betting odds still do not favor the Heat to come back in this series. Whereas the odds for a Lakers sweep were even through game one, the Lakers sit at -143 to win in just five games. But, as Butler showed in game three, assuming the Lakers will roll through the remaining games of this series could be a dangerous line of thinking.

Heading into the third game of this series, the Lakers had led by double figures in all but one second half minute of games one and two. In game three, the Heat were the ones leading by double digits for much of the proceedings. Though one would expect the Lakers to respond by adjusting how they defend Butler in the post going forward, it is clear that the Heat are willing to think outside of the box to get their best player the ball in positions to score.

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NBA Finals Betting FAQ

Do upsets happen often in the NBA Finals?

Upsets certainly aren’t impossible in the Finals. Even in series where the best team wins, sweeps are uncommon in the Finals. This year, with neither team being able to take advantage of their home court, it is even more likely that teams struggle with focusing through an entire series. As we just saw with the Lakers and Heat, the favored team does not always win, even at this level.

Who should I bet on to win the NBA Finals?

Given that the Lakers are such heavy favorites to win the Finals, there is not a lot of value in betting them to win the title. Instead, bettors may want to look at other markets related to the outcome of the series. Bettors can wager on how many games will be played in the Finals, what the exact score of the Finals will be, and other markets that carry more favorable odds.

Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan?

Who the best player in NBA history is can be a matter of opinion. Both LeBron James and Michael Jordan are the best players of their respective eras and have unique abilities that set them apart from one another. Whoever you think is best, neither player is one that you would typically want to bet against in big moments.

Jay Sanin
Jay Sanin is a sports writer and broadcaster from Albany, NY. He has covered sports betting and the gambling industry since 2013.