The Los Angeles Lakers had to figure out a way to deal with Jimmy Butler following his Herculean effort in the Miami Heat’s Game 3 win. Butler had the third 40-point triple-double in NBA Finals history in Game 3, navigating Miami to a win that looked like a potential springboard to turning the series around.
Then, the Lakers came out and won Game 4 behind a suffocating defense, good performances by their two stars, and plenty of help from their supporting cast. It also helped that Butler wasn’t nearly as dominant despite having a very solid game, due in large part to the fact that Los Angeles gave Anthony Davis the job of keeping him in check — according to NBA.com’s tracking data, Davis spent more time as Butler’s primary defender than anyone else, and the runner-up for the 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year Award put the clamps on Miami’s star.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, this wasn’t a tactical decision by the Lakers’ coaching staff. Instead, Davis asked that he be given this assignment following Butler’s performance on Sunday night.
After that game, privately, a frustrated Davis alerted teammates and coaches that he needed to be glued to Butler, sources told Yahoo Sports.
And in Monday’s practice, Davis was officially given the assignment he wanted. After the ball was tipped and when the Heat got their first offensive possession, the tone was set when Davis shadowed Butler.
After Game 4, Davis discussed getting the Butler assignment, saying, “I just tried to be locked in to him. We know that the past … the last game, he kind of just took over and imposed his will on the game on both ends of the floor, and we just tried to give him a different look. Tried to make him shoot over a contested hand, finishing over the length at the rim. Just make it tough for him. It was very easy for him in Game 3. We just wanted to switch it up. I wanted to use a lot of my energy on the defensive end, knowing the other guys on the team were going to make up the absence for me on the offensive end.”
Davis’ gravity on the defensive end of the floor is nigh unparalleled in the league, whether he’s guarding someone 1-on-1 or operating as one of the most fearsome help defenders in basketball. Butler scored 22 points and doled out nine assists on Tuesday, which is hardly an off night, but only connected on eight of his 17 field goal attempts and didn’t spend a ton of time at the free throw line, only shooting seven shots from the charity stripe. Completely stopping a player of his caliber altogether is very, very hard, but the Lakers just needed to slow him down. Davis did that, and as a result, L.A. is one game away from lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy.