Jimmy Butler put the Miami Heat on his back in the final minutes on Friday and refused to let their championship dreams die, outdueling LeBron James down the stretch in the NBA Finals.
Playing to the point of exhaustion and beyond, Butler scored 35 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, passed off 11 assists and made five steals in Miami’s 111-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, pulling to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
“His will to win is remarkable,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To do that in 47-plus minutes and take the challenge on the other end, every young player coming into this league should study footage on Jimmy Butler.”
Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY
Butler shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 12-of-12 from the free-throw line in a game-high 47 minutes for a Miami squad who used only seven players.
The weary playmaker slumped on an advertisement board beyond the end of the court before hitting the free throws that put the Heat ahead to stay with 16.8 seconds remaining.
“I left it all out there on the floor along with my guys,” Butler said. “And that’s what we’re going to have to do the rest of the way. We’ve got two more games to get.”
Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY
Butler traded scores with four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James on six straight possessions in the final two minutes, carrying Miami just far enough to force Game 6 today.
“That’s what the team asked of me. That’s what they need me to do,” Butler said. “I know I’m capable of it. I have a great group of guys around me. That gives me a lot of confidence to go out there and hoop.”
James said that Butler outplayed him down the stretch.
“That was back and forth, big play after big play,” James said. “That’s the beauty of the game, being able to compete at the highest level. You take those opportunities and live in the moment. We were both just trying to do that and will our teams to victory. He was able to make one more play than I was tonight and get the victory.”
The key play was a foul call on LA’s Anthony Davis with 16.8 seconds to play when Butler drove to the hoop, one that James lamented.
“I thought he was chest to chest with Jimmy and the call didn’t go our way. It was a tough call,” James said. “He has been damn-near perfect at the free-throw line in this series.”
The Lakers played a physical game against Butler, trying in vain to drain his strength, but instead sparking the flames of his determination despite the fatigue.
“We ain’t backing down,” Butler said. “We ain’t shying away. We’re going to go down and do what we do. We ain’t backing down. We ain’t scared of nobody.”
“I believe in my skill set and my talent,” Butler said. “So as long as we stay together and play basketball the right way, no matter how they guard me, I’m going to make the right play.”
Butler’s teammates have no doubt that he can handle a matchup against James or any other NBA rival, even after playing nearly an entire game.
“He’s built for it,” Heat guard Kendrick Nunn said. “We have confidence we can lean on him and get the job done.”
There is no such thing as going to Butler too often.
“That’s our max player,” Heat forward Bam Adebayo said. “We’ve got to go to him and keep producing and let him take over the show.”
Heat guard Duncan Robinson warned that Butler’s biggest weapon is his determination.
“He’s just the ultimate competitor,” Robinson said. “When you put him on this stage, he’ll do everything he needs to do to win. Taking it inside, shooting from outside, whatever it takes. For a lot of us, it’s just get out of the way — he took us home tonight.”
Davis said that he would be ready to go in Game 6, despite an early injury scare on Friday.
Davis took an awkward hop as he battled Miami’s Andre Iguodala for a rebound late in the first quarter and limped off the court in pain.
The Lakers said that he aggravated a contusion in his right heel, but after pacing gingerly around on the sideline, he returned to the contest to score 28 points.
“Iggy kind of stepped on it,” he said. “Reaggravated it, but I’ll be fine on Sunday.”
Davis said he originally hurt his heel in the Lakers’ Western Conference finals win over the Denver Nuggets.
He said the pain on Friday “kind of just wore off,” although his movement appeared to be affected late in the game.
“I just kept moving around, just trying not to sit down,” Davis said.
“Get that adrenaline going and I was able to keep going and keep playing,” he said.
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