LeBron James and Jimmy Butler went toe-to-toe like heavyweight champions, King James trying to close out the Lakers’ record 17th title and Butler trying to stave off elimination for the Heat. And Butler landed the punch he needed.
Butler, fighting through fatigue for a triple-double, carried Miami to a 111-108 win in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., a tilt the Heat seemed to have won, then lost, then won again.
Miami blew an 11-point edge, and there were seven lead changes in the final three minutes. But it wasn’t safe until the Lakers’ Danny Green missed a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left and teammate Markieff Morris threw away a pass with just 2 seconds remaining on the clock.
“It was all about getting stops. … This one was a little bit of luck, Danny Green missed that shot at the top of the key,” Butler said in an on-court interview. “We just played hard, shared the ball like we always do and kept with it. This is a game of runs and we withstood theirs.”
Butler was brilliant for shorthanded Miami, with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. The Heat, playing without point guard Goran Dragic again, needed all of that.
Miami big man Bam Adebayo had been the best player in Eastern Conference finals, but he strained his neck in Game 1 of the Finals. Admittedly timid in Tuesday’s return to the court, he still wasn’t his normal self. Duncan Robinson, an undrafted second-year pro out of Michigan, picked up the slack with 26 points, and huge plays on both ends late.
James had a dominant with 40 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers. Anthony Davis played like a star, shaking off a heel contusion and coming back into the game to finish with 28 points and 12 boards.
But it wasn’t enough to keep the Heat from sending it to Game 6 on Sunday.
Miami had command almost the entire night, and was up 93-82 after free throws by Adebayo (13 points, just four rebounds). But the Lakers responded with a 17-3 run.
A Green corner 3-pointer and Davis free throws pulled the Lakers within three. And when James found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the right corner for a trey, it put them ahead for the first time since the opening quarter, 97-96 with 6:18 left to play.
A breakaway dunk by Caldwell-Pope capped the 17-3 run in the fourth, and put Los Angeles ahead by three with five minutes remaining.
Butler, running on fumes, hit a pull-up jumper to put Miami back ahead 103-101, but James topped him with an and-one for the lead with 1:34 left. Butler responded with a 7-footer, but James’ basket put Los Angeles up 106-105 with 58.2 seconds left in the game.
Two Butler free throws put Miami back up, but Davis’ putback just beat the shot clock for a 108-107 Lakers lead with 21.8 ticks remaining. It didn’t stand.
Butler, who hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw, drew contact on Davis and hit two more with 16.8 second on the clock to put Miami back ahead. And when Morris tried to lob the ball into Davis, but tossed it away with 2.2 seconds left, he threw away a chance to clinch.
The Lakers had no choice but to foul, and Tyler Herro iced it at the line.
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