The Miami Heat avoided elimination Friday night with a 111-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and what a game it was. Jimmy Butler, a player who’s particular genius may lie in his ability to remain calm in the face of even greater genius, went blow for blow with LeBron down the stretch scoring or assisting on 11 of the Heat’s final 15 points in the 4th quarter. Jimmy Buckets would finish with a 35 point, 12 rebounds, 11 assist triple-double along with 5 steals, and a block in 47 minutes of action.
In what has become a strange trend in the career of LeBron James, the greatest player of his generation played masterfully in a loss. No player perhaps other than Jerry West has had to practice forgiveness as often and on as grand of a scale than James. Who’s 40 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assist with 6-9 three-point shooting masterpiece was undone by Danny Greens refusal to play the part of John Paxson on a wide-open CHAMPIONSHIP CLENCHING three, and Markieff Morris’s refusal to play the part of a competent NBA player. Let’s go ahead and get it out of the way now, as it is the central trauma of what will be remembered as a Finals classic.
Morris had 6 full seconds to make a play, LeBron was open on the wing and it was from the wing he’d be forced to watch Morris’s pass inside to Davis sail out of bounds. LeBron James is uniquely aware of what Shakespeare called the “History of all men’s lives”, this is his true link to Kobe Bryant, their near-constant self-awareness of legacy. It’s what makes the Heat’s victory all the more laudable. One game stood between James and a 4th championship, a likely 4th finals MVP. In this, his 16th season, every game he plays is colored with legacy implications every milestone passed signaling a reevaluation of his place among the top 3 or 4 all-time greats.
The big questions facing the Heat entering Friday nights elimination game was how to get Butler going against Anthony Davis, and if and when they were going to get a big performance from Herro or Robinson. In regards to the Davis matchup, the Heat tried a few things including clearing one corner and using “step-up” or flat screens to give Butler some space to operate, Butler himself played the role of screener for guards Herro and Nunn on occasion but he also just made shots one on one vs. everyone Davis included. You have to throw multiple looks at a great player, even as effective as Davis is Jimmy saw it in Game 4 and as a result looked more comfortable around the length of AD in Game 5.
As for Duncan Robinson, he showed up big and it changed the Heat’s offense. Robinson who’d struggled to find a rhythm in the series’s first four games scored 26 points on 7 three-pointers in Game 5. It’s not just the shots Ducan makes that influence the game, his constant movement greases the gears of the Heat’s entire offense opening up possibilities all over the court. Shooting creates space but so does just plain old movement. Knowing what space to occupy is a basketball skill. Watch how Robinson relocates as soon as his man shifts his attention to Butler on the offensive rebound.
Again on this huge possession during the game’s final minutes, watch how Robinson finds the open real estate as soon as his defender (poor KCP again) turns his head to ball watch Butler.
The Lakers entered game 5 with the same questions they’ve entered every playoff game with namely if and how long to play Dwight Howard, and who exactly among there supporting cast would step up as the team’s third contributor game to game. Well, Howard got the start and contributed 1 turnover and two rebounds in 15 minutes of action all while continuing to be hunted on switches and forced to guard away from the rim, and clogging up the lane for the Lakers on offense. I’m not opposed to Dwight in all situations, and I understand Vogel’s interest early on in seeing exactly what kind of impact he could make on the glass and with for easy putbacks but at this point, Howard is obviously a liability and the Heat are not a team to be fooling around with.
As for the Laker’s supporting cast, KCP was once again an offense bright spot but struggled defensively. Kyle Kuzma posted a whopping -17 in 22 minutes, Markieef Morris had zero points and 3 turnovers in 22 minutes, Danny Green scored 3 points in the entire second half, and it goes on and on. LeBron, AD, and KCP combined for 84 of the Lakers 108 points. The Lakers did however get back on track in transition scoring 25 fast-break points and despite it, all were still maybe just one terrible play away from a championship.
The Lakers let LeBron down in Game 5, plain and simple. LeBron’s one-man wrecking crew act during the games finals minutes bears witness to a performance in which nothing was left on the table. He gave everything he had Friday night, and now it’s up to the rest of the Lakers give a little too.
Heat v. Lakers Game 6
Sunday, October 11, 6:30 (CT) on ABC