Jimmy Butler was slumped over a video board behind the baseline in the final seconds, exhausted, gasping for air.
The Miami Heat needed nothing less.
The NBA Finals — and Miami’s title chances — are not over, not after Butler and the Heat pulled off a virtuoso performance in Game 5 on Friday night. Butler had 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Heat held off Los Angeles 111-108 to cut the Lakers’ lead in the title series to 3-2.
“That’s Jimmy Butler,” Heat centre Bam Adebayo said. “That’s our max player and that’s who we go to in these moments.”
WATCH | Butler leads Heat past Lakers in Game 5:
With good reason. He didn’t let them down, not even on a night where LeBron James — seeking a fourth title and the player with the best closeout-game record in NBA history — was masterful.
James had 40 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers. But on the possession that decided everything Friday night, the Heat forced the ball out of James’ hands by basically sending three defenders at him as he drove down the right side of the lane, the Heat up by one, the Lakers only needing one basket for a title.
He found Green alone atop the key; Green’s shot was well short and the Heat closed it out with a pair of free throws.
“It was a little bit of luck that Danny Green missed that shot at the top of the key,” Butler said.
Game 6 is Sunday night.
“We got a hell of a look to win the game, to win the series,” James said. “It didn’t go down.”
Duncan Robinson had 26 points for Miami, which used seven players. Kendrick Nunn had 14 points, Bam Adebayo 13, Tyler Herro 12 and Jae Crowder 11. The seventh player, Andre Iguodala, didn’t score.
Anthony Davis — playing through a bruised heel — scored 28 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 16 for the Lakers.
Los Angeles broke out all the stops: Davis had shiny gold sneakers on, the hue similar to the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and the team made the decision earlier in the week to skip on the scheduled purple uniforms and wear the black ones designed and inspired by Kobe Bryant instead.
They were 4-0 in those uniforms. They’re 4-1 now.
But Bryant, oh, how he would have loved this fight. Drama, all the way to the end.
Robinson’s 3-pointer with 3:13 left put Miami up by two, and started a stretch where the next nine scoring possessions from either side resulted in a tie or a lead change.
Back and forth they went. Butler got fouled with 46.7 seconds left, then slumped over the baseline video boards, clearly exhausted. He made both foul shots for a one-point lead; Davis’ putback with 21.8 seconds left got the Lakers back on top.
“We were very close,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “I felt two bad calls at the end put Butler to the line, you know, and that’s unfortunate in a game of this magnitude.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used his last timeout after Davis’ go-ahead score, just to buy Butler a couple minutes of rest. Butler drove the lane, drew contact and made both with 16.8 seconds left for a 109-108 lead.
“Every young player coming into this league should study footage on Jimmy Butler, the definition of a two-way player competing on both ends, five steals, and then making those big plays down the stretch for us offensively,” Spoelstra said.
Thanks to Butler, who played all but 38 seconds, they escaped. The season continues.
“This is the position that we’re in and we like it this way,” Butler said. “And we’ve got two more to get.”