RECAP: Jimmy Butler returns, scores 28, Miami Heat cruise in Game 3

May 6, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) dribbles the ball past New York Knicks guard Josh Hart (3) during the second half of game three of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) dribbles the ball past New York Knicks guard Josh Hart (3) during the second half of game three of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports /

The return of Jimmy Butler was an ill portent for the New York Knicks as the Miami Heat took a 2-1 series lead with a commanding 105-86 victory back at the Kaseya Center. The Heat jumped out to a 19-8 start and never really looked back, the Knicks never seriously threatening Miami’s lead for the remainder of the contest.

Bam Adebayo added 17 points and 12 rebounds while anchoring a stout Heat defense that held the Knicks to 38.9% shooting from the field. His primary assignment, Julius Randle, struggled mightily as he shot 4-15 from the field and finished with just 10 points. Max Strus chipped in with 19 and Kyle Lowry added 14 off of the bench. Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 20 points and 8 assists, but did it on just 7-20 shooting from the field.

A few stray thoughts:

  • Butler’s status was up in the air up until roughly an hour before tipoff, but with him getting five days of rest between Games 1 and 3, it was widely expected he’d be ready to go. The bigger question is how would he look to start the game, but he quickly put any doubts to rest that he’d be severely hampered, scoring 10 points in the opening period.
  • With that said, this was, as crazy as it seems, probably Butler’s “worst” game of the postseason. He shot just 9-21 from the field (his first time under 50% in these playoffs), missing a few contested shots in the paint, and had just 4 rebounds and 3 assists. But with his usual penchant for getting to the free throw line (10-11) he was still efficient enough to get the job done.
  • The statline isn’t radically different from Game 2, but this was a stronger showing from Adebayo. His 17 points came on 7-14 shooting, and he did a stellar job keeping Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein off of the glass. The Heat won the rebounding battle 50-48.
  • After scoring 20 or more points in three consecutive games, Gabe Vincent came back down to earth a bit, scoring just 5 points on 1-8 shooting. With Butler back, Vincent seemed a bit unsure of where to get his own shot in the offense and forced a few ill-timed, errant jumpers.
  • Kevin Love had a quiet game (4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), but threw another beautiful outlet pass in the first period to a streaking Max Strus, who leapt in the open court to make the reception and score. Possibly related: Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel was again in attendance.
  • This was not a game for fans of three point marksmanship. Miami shot just 7-32 from three, and the Knicks were a putrid 8-40 from beyond the arc. Miami’s 2017 Golden State Warriors impression against the Milwaukee Bucks is starting to look like it was a mirage, but they managed to get good enough offense and plenty of free throws inside the arc to get to a respectable 105 points.
  • With Vincent struggling, the Heat got a nice bounceback game from Kyle Lowry who, at one point, posted up Immanuel Quickley, a player who was 7 years old when Lowry first entered the NBA, and faked him out of his shoes for an easy duck-in layup. He was a steadying presence for the offense (14 points, 4 assists, 0 turnovers).
  • Cody Zeller, perhaps the last player I’d expect this out of, got into a bit of a brouhaha (or was it a fracas?) with Julius Randle in the 3rd quarter. Both were assessed technicals, as was Caleb Martin. Ahh Heat-Knicks.
  • As for Martin, he looked limited following his back injury late in Game 2. Martin did not make a basket in Game 3 (0-3, 3 pts total), though did manage good defense on Brunson and others (+13 in his 23 minutes)
  • Another poor shooting game for Duncan Robinson (1-5 from three), but he and Bam revived their two-man game for one sequence in the 4th quarter that brought back memories of their best work in 2019-2020. And as always, Robinson’s gravity is still worthy of the opponent’s attention.
  • The Knicks Mitchell Robinson played just 14 minutes in Game 3 as he battled foul trouble. Isaiah Hartenstein was forced to play 28 minutes in relief and was a -18. Plus/minus is often unreliable, but the Heat do appear to have more success at the rim when Robinson isn’t patrolling the paint.
  • Worth watching the injury situation with multiple players moving forward. Butler appeared to tweak his right ankle again on a 3rd quarter drive, Adebayo seemed to favor his shoulder after an RJ Barrett foul (though he would make both of his free throws), while on the Knicks side, Immanuel Quickley left the game with a leg injury and the broadcast made reference to Jalen Brunson looking gimpy on his own ankle for stretches.
  • Erik Spoelstra called for, and won, a rare 3rd-quarter challenge on a play that was originally ruled an offensive foul by Gabe Vincent. Vincent, who was crowded by Brunson as he rose up for a 3, later was ruled to have been instead fouled himself, and got to attempt three foul shots.

Game 4 is set for Monday at 7:30 PM on TNT.