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Jimmy Butler bounces back from ankle sprain with 28 in Heat win

MIAMI — With 2:17 remaining in Game 3, Jimmy Butler was fouled and headed to the line for a pair of free throws.

As Butler stepped up to the charity stripe, he took a moment to catch his breath and put his hands on his knees. The Kaseya Center crowd slowly rose to their feet to cheer for their MVP — the one who had just returned to lead the Miami Heat to a dominant 105-86 victory on Saturday over the New York Knicks to take a 2-1 series lead.

Butler finished with a game-high 28 points after missing Game 2 with a sprained right ankle.

“I feel alright,” Butler said when asked how he was doing and what it took to get ready for Game 3. “A lot of recovery and making sure that I can move went into it for sure. I got a great team behind me that people don’t see that are always there for me and making sure I have everything I need while I’m off the floor to recover.”

There was a brief moment where the Heat fans had to hold their collective breaths late in the third quarter. Butler made contact with the stanchion and was a little hobbled going back up the court.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN’s Malika Andrews during the on-court interview between the third and fourth quarter that Butler had injured his thigh but postgame said Butler was fine.

“I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Spoelstra said postgame. “He’s fine. He’s not even icing that part of it. It was one of those little stingers that you just need three plays and it wears off.”

After playing the entire third quarter, Butler didn’t return to the game until 5:19 remaining. Miami held a 17-point lead entering the fourth and Butler came back in when the lead was at 14. Spoelstra said Butler could have come back sooner but the two were “on the same page” about when to bring him back in the game.

Unlike the first two games of the series that featured 20 lead changes and 15 ties combined, Game 3 was all Miami all game. The Heat controlled things from the opening tip and never let the lead get back to single digits after the first basket of the second quarter.

“I think we just kept our heads down and I think we just kept competing, kept communicating the whole time,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “I think we had a good game plan. I think we were focused.”

Butler led the charge for the Heat in the first quarter scoring 10 in the opening frame with eight of those coming in the first six minutes. With five days off between playing in Games 1 and 3, Butler said he was out of rhythm early.

But both teams were out of rhythm throughout the game. The Heat finished shooting 38.9% from the field and 7-of-32 (21.9%) from three-point range while the Knicks shot 34.1% overall and were 8-of-40 (20%) from deep.

“You just have to do whatever you have to do to get a win,” Spoelstra said. “Each game might be different. You don’t have to shoot 50 threes to win a playoff game. But maybe in the next game we’ll have to.”

After the Game 2 loss, Bam Adebayo put the blame on his shoulders. His answer in Game 3 was felt on the defensive end.

In the first two games of the series Adebayo allowed 1.3 points per play as the primary defender and allowed opponents to shoot 11-of-17, according to ESPN Stats and Information tracking data. In Game 3, he allowed 0.31 points per play and held the Knicks to 2-of-14 shooting as the primary defender.

Adebayo said the Heat’s defensive effort as a whole was the biggest key to the victory.

“Making them take tough shots. Making them play in crowds. And then getting into their shooters. Running them off the line,” Adebayo said. “I feel like that’s what really won us that game.”

The other big key was the return of Butler. It was Butler’s ninth consecutive playoff game with at least 25 points. The only player in Heat franchise history with a longer streak is LeBron James, who had 16 consecutive 25-point games between the 2012 and 2013 playoffs.

Butler has scored 25 points in all seven games he’s played in this postseason, marking the longest such streak to begin a postseason run in Heat history.

“Right now, he’s on his run,” Adebayo said. “He’s playing at an all-time high. The thing about it is, you just gotta give him open space. Once he’s one-on-one with the big, I feel like it’s either a bucket or a foul. So my job is easy — make sure he gets open.”

This story originally appeared on ESPN

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