NBA Finals: Jimmy Butler impacts Miami Heat’s victory over LA Lakers with near-perfect game

47:11 minutes. 35 points. 12 rebounds. 11 assists. Five steals. Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler did everything in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to prevent the Lakers from winning their 17th Championship.

Amit Kamath October 10, 2020 17:09:06 IST
NBA Finals: Jimmy Butler impacts Miami Heat’s victory over LA Lakers with near-perfect game

Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James pulls a rebound away from Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler during Game 5 of NBA Finals on Saturday. AP Photo

Not today.

The Los Angeles Lakers did not win their first NBA Championship after a decade on Saturday. LeBron James did not win his fourth ring with a third franchise either. Anthony Davis did not get the taste of his first title. Not today.

Jimmy Butler is not in the Orlando bubble to have fun, you know? You might see videos of him prancing around wearing Tyler Herro’s high school jersey or Erik Spoelstra’s college jersey. You might hear of him starting his own brand of coffee ― Big Face Coffee ― from his hotel room at Walt Disney World, which he sells for $20.

But make no mistake, Butler’s not in Orlando to have fun.

He made it clear that even if the heat win the Championship, no one's getting free coffee.

“This is a business trip for me,” he announced at the start of September when asked why his family was not in the bubble with him.

On Saturday morning, Butler extended his stay in the bubble for two more days ― at least ― after a 47-minute, 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist, five-steal masterclass in Game 5 of the 2019-20 NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Not many teams would have survived a 40-point barrage from LeBron and a 28-point display by Davis in a closeout game.

But not only did Miami survive, they seemed to thrive at times in a game which they had to win to keep the season alive. The Eastern Conference champions did not trail in the second or third quarters.

The fourth quarter, on the other hand, was a no-holds-barred boxing contest with Butler and LeBron exchanging haymakers before two contentious fouls on Butler sent him to the free throw line for four throws, all of which he sunk without effort to seal the 111-108 win.

The Lakers wrested back the lead of the game for the first time since the first quarter with 6.18 minutes remaining in the game, thanks to a 15-3 scoring run. They could smell blood in the water, imagine their 17th Championship banner hanging from the rafters at Staples Centre, and see the confetti machines lined up beside the court.

“I didn’t pay attention to the confetti machines. I was locked in on the game. We’re here to win. So for these next two games we’re going to be in the trenches,” said Butler.

The Lakers and Heat were neck-and-neck until two minutes left in the game, when Butler and LeBron decided to go toe-to-toe.

Butler’s mid-range jumpers were met with LeBron’s lay-ups, as the lead yo-yoed between the two teams. Butler was fouled twice by Lakers ― both calls that Lakers have vehemently disagreed with ― to get four free throws in the final minute. He nailed all four of them, despite struggling to stand erect at one point due to exhaustion. In the end, he ensured that he delivered the knockout punch on the Lakers.

“One thing about Miami is, they make you pay for every mistake,” said LeBron. “It’s the same as when I was playing against Golden State Warriors all those years, you make a mistake, they make you pay.”

Compared to that Warriors dynasty though, that denied LeBron’s Cavaliers three championships, this Heat team does not have quite the same star power.

“I think LeBron had a hell of a performance tonight, along with Davis and the whole team,” Butler said about LeBron’s night. “But we ain’t backing down. We ain’t shying away. We can go on the other end and do what we do. We’re still fighting. We’re in it to win it, we’re not backing down, we’re not scared of nobody.”

NBA Finals Jimmy Butler impacts Miami Heats victory over LA Lakers with nearperfect game

Lakers' LeBron James (right) is blocked by Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat. AFP

Impact winning

One phrase the Heat players and coach Erik Spoelstra have repeatedly used in the Playoffs this season has been ‘impacting winning.’

In Game 3, when the Heat won, Butler impacted the result with a 40-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist stat-line.

On Saturday, Butler’s impact came not just from his triple-double, but also from him playing 47.11 minutes of the 48-minute encounter.

“It was an understanding,” said Spoelstra about the decision to have Butler playing for over 47 minutes. “I was looking for opportunities maybe to steal him a minute or two, like we did in the last game. When we got up double digits and they came right back, that was the opportunity and missed it, and at that point we had already burned the boats.”

That’s another phrase the Heat are enamoured by ― burning the boats. It means having no option but to win.

“Jimmy’s will to win is remarkable. 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, the definition of a two-way player competing on both ends, (having) five steals, and then making those big plays down the stretch for us offensively,” Spoelstra said about his superstar who is averaging 42.51 minutes over five games of the NBA Finals this season (For context: no player in either team has played over 42.12 minutes in a single game except Butler).

Butler’s night started with him guarding Davis, and ended with him taking the responsibility of keeping LeBron quiet. Well, as quiet as you can keep a LeBron James who’s just discovered the three-point shooting form of Steph Curry.

Davis, when in form, has been particularly devastating against the Heat in the Finals ― his size, agility, passing, playmaking nous, and basketball IQ making him unguardable at times for Heat, who have played a few games sans the injured Bam Adebayo.

The Heat’s problems have been compounded by an injury to starting point guard Goran Dragic, and indifferent shooting from Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

Despite all of this, Butler left the game finding scope for improvement.

“We got to get better,” said Butler. “I don’t think we ended the game the way we were supposed to. We got lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m taking the win, but I think going into the next one we got to play even more perfectly.”

You could argue that Heat, and Butler, played as close to perfection as possible in Game 5. But it’s unlikely the Heat, or Butler, will agree. Not today.

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