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NBA Finals: Jimmy Butler, LeBron James intensity heats up Game 4

The Miami Heat are one win away from tying the NBA Finals after Jimmy Butler (L) posted a 40-point triple-double in the Heat's Game 3 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE
The Miami Heat are one win away from tying the NBA Finals after Jimmy Butler (L) posted a 40-point triple-double in the Heat's Game 3 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE

Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Intensity increased after the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Miami Heat in the first two games of the NBA Finals. A feisty Jimmy Butler performance in a Game 3 gave Miami a chance to tie the series Tuesday.

Butler -- known throughout the NBA for his physicality and competitive nature -- used some trash talk for four-time NBA MVP LeBron James to fuel his triple-double performance Sunday in Game 3. His 40-point, 13-assist and 11-rebound game energized the entire Heat roster on offense and defense.

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The Heat remain undermanned due to injuries to guard Goran Dragic and center Bam Adebayo, but could force a longer series with more spectacular performances from Butler.

"I think LeBron has gotten the best of me way too many times," Butler said Sunday. "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.

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"We are here to compete. But we're not going to lie down. We're going to fight back in this thing and even it up 2-2."



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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitted his team needs every ounce of Butler's energy to keep the series competitive. The physical drain on Butler was evident at one point Sunday when he remained on the floor to catch his breath after one of his many attacks on the rim.

His chest pulsated with inhales and exhales as he stared at the arena ceiling before he got to his feet and tried to compose himself so he could shoot free throws.

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"It's whatever is necessary at this point and he's willing to take on that responsibility," Spoelstra said.

The Lakers remain heavy favorites to beat the Heat in Game 4 and win the best-of-seven series. James is on a quest to win his fourth championship overall and third title with a third different team.

James said he loves to play against Butler and called the Heat All-Star "one of the best competitors" in the NBA. James also praised the Heat defense for its active mentality, which forces turnovers and leads to extra possessions.

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Butler -- a four-time All-Defensive team selection -- often sparks that activity.

"I thought Jimmy was phenomenal," James said of Butler's performance in Game 3. "He did everything they needed him to do and he came through in a big-time game."

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Butler has a 14-9 record over James-led teams when they have matched up during the regular season. James has a 10-4 record over Butler in the playoffs. James' Cleveland Cavaliers beat Butler's Chicago Bulls in four of six games to win the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals before their most-recent playoff battle.

James also led the Heat to win four of five games over Butler's Bulls in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. Many of their previous games resulted in under-the-rim tie-ups as the two All-Stars wrestled each other for position on rebounds and played tough defense.

James rekindled some of that intensity Sunday when he taunted Butler and said "you're in trouble" at the end of the first quarter. Butler threw those words back at James in the fourth quarter as he willed the Heat to a Game 3 win.

"We know that Miami is never going to quit, no matter if we won [Sunday] and they go into a Game 4 [at] 3-0," James said. "I know how resilient that bunch is and how resilient that coaching staff is and their franchise.

"I don't ever feel like we let our guard down. Also, I don't feel like we're concerned. We know we can play a lot better. We have another opportunity to take a commanding lead on Tuesday. You relish that opportunity."

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The Heat will face the Lakers in Game 4 at 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. Game 5 is at 9 p.m. Friday. The Heat could force a Game 6, which would be Sunday, if they can win one of the next two games.

"This is what [Butler] wanted, this is what we wanted," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the desire to play a competitive series. "It's really hard to analyze or describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four lines [on the court].

"He's a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it. Obviously, [Game 3] was a very desperate, urgent game, and he was doing it on both ends of the court. He just put his imprint on every important part of the game."

Moments from LeBron James' career

St. Vincent-St. Mary High School senior LeBron James (L) drives around a Zanesvuille defender in Akron, Ohio, on February 14, 2003. James is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. A couple months later, the Cleveland Cavaliers coach was suspended because James worked out with the team before he graduated from high school. Photo by Tom Cammett/UPI | License Photo

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