LeBron James wanted to end this and played like the G.O.A.T. in a close-out Game 5 of the NBA Finals: 40 points, 13 rebounds, 6-of-9 from three. He led the Lakers from 11 points down with 10:31 left to having the lead in the final five minutes.
Jimmy Butler was just a little better at the end and got just a little more help.
Butler scored eight points in the final two minutes, including driving the lane and drawing a foul on Anthony Davis, then draining two free throws to put the Heat up one with 16.8 seconds left.
LeBron and the Lakers had a chance. LeBron drove the lane and made the right basketball play, kicking out to a wide-open Danny Green at the three-point line — Miami was okay with that. Green missed, Los Angeles got the offensive rebound but Markieff Morris threw a pass out of bounds, and it was all but over.
Butler and the Heat’s gritty performance earned them a 111-108 win to extend the series and force a Game 6 on Sunday. The Lakers still lead the series 3-2 and can close it out.
There was a lot of post-game scrutiny for LeBron, with some calling him out on Twitter for passing to the wide-open Green rather than trying to shoot a highly contested runner over three defenders. LeBron has made the right basketball play throughout his entire career, and he did it again; Green just missed the shot.
“We got a hell of a look. We got a hell of a look to win the game, to win the series,” LeBron said. “Didn’t go down. And then we got the offensive rebound, we turned the ball over…
“But we’ve got to be better. We’ve just got to be better in Game 6 and close the series.”
Miami was willing to live with Green shooting instead of LeBron.
“At the end of the day, I like those decisions,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of that play and LeBron’s pass. “I mean we had everybody in the paint, LeBron just had a bunch of those possessions in the fourth quarter where he was just getting to the basket, offensive rebounding, everything at the rim, to the free throw line. So we needed to bring not only a second defender there, a third defender. Then they cut and of course Danny Green is there.
“But there was a karma to it. I thought our competitive spirit throughout the course of the game was great. Sometimes it’s make or miss and sometimes you need to be a little bit fortunate; we were.”
Without Goran Dragic — still out with a torn plantar fascia — so much of the Miami’s shot creation has fallen on Butler’s shoulders. He responded Friday night with a 35-point triple-double (12 rebounds, 11 assists), he was the primary defender on LeBron James, and Butler played more than 47 minutes on the night. He was drained at the end, but just kept making plays.
And he got help — Duncan Robinson scored 26 and was 7-of-13 from three. Bam Adebayo had 13 points, and Kendrick Nunn came off the bench and played like the regular-season version of himself (the bubble Nunn has not been as good) scoring 14 and making timely plays.
The Lakers’ defense, which had been spectacular in Game 4, was spotty in Game 5, and it allowed Miami to keep pace.
LeBron played arguably his best game of the series — he had 21 points in the first half, and he was crafty on defense. He was trying to end the series, but he didn’t get enough help.
Anthony Davis had 28 points and 12 rebounds, but was slowed when he aggravated the bruise on his right heel right at the end of the first quarter. He seemed to tweak it again in the fourth quarter when he got tangled up with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He didn’t move well at the end of the game — which helped Miami with Butler attacking the rim.
“He was struggling to move a little bit but toughed it out, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of Davis.
Pope finished with 16 for the Lakers, one of just three from the Lakers to score in double digits. Erik Spoelstra played just seven Heat players, keeping his rotations tight, but six scored in double figures.