Miami's Jimmy Butler out-duels LeBron James to force Game 6 of NBA Finals against Lakers

Ben Rohrbach
·6 mins read

Jimmy Butler will not go down without a fight.

The Miami Heat star logged his second triple-double of the NBA Finals, out-dueling Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James down the stretch of a 111-108 victory in Game 5. Butler registered 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, including a pair of go-ahead free throws in the final minute of an instant classic.

The only other player to record two triple-doubles in a Finals: LeBron James in 2015.

The Heat and Lakers will meet again in Game 6 at 7:30 p.m. EST on Sunday night.

“We’re just going to continue to fight,” Butler told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on the postgame broadcast, shouting out injured point guard Goran Dragic in the process. “I pray, I hope that we get [No.] 7 back. I know he wants to hoop with us, but until then we’ve got to stay together and stay in the trenches.”

Anthony Davis gave the Lakers a 108-107 lead with a put-back that beat the shot clock with 21.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and James was that close to securing the fourth title of his illustrious career. That will have to wait at least two more days. Butler beat a screened James off the dribble and drew a foul from Davis five seconds later, sinking both free throws to regain a 109-108 lead.

The Lakers had 16.8 seconds to capture the franchise’s 17th championship, but Danny Green missed a wide-open three-pointer and Markieff Morris threw the ball wildly out of bounds trying to lob it to Davis.

“If you just look at the play, I was able to draw two defenders below the free-throw line and find one of our shooters at the top of the key for a wide-open three to win a championships,” James said of Green’s miss, following criticism of his decision not to take the potential game-winning shot. “I trusted him, we trusted him, and it just didn’t go. You live with that. It’s one of the best shots we could’ve got I feel in that fourth quarter, down the stretch. I had two guys on me ... and Danny had a hell of a look. It just didn’t go down. I know he wishes he could have it again, and I wish I made a better pass, but you just live with it.”

The Lakers fouled Tyler Herro on the inbound, and the 20-year-old rookie calmly sank both free throws with 1.6 seconds left. James’ last-second heave from midcourt never had a chance, and Miami survived.

Butler nearly did not. Less than five minutes into Friday’s game, Butler sparred with 6-foot-10, 265-pound Lakers center Dwight Howard, and the pair earned offsetting technical fouls. The message was clear: The Heat were not leaving the bubble willingly. The Lakers fought back from a seven-point hole early in the third quarter to tie the game, 70-70, but Howard flagrantly fouled Butler, swinging hard and connecting with his head. Butler somehow made the tip-in and managed to hit the free throw, igniting an 8-0 run.

Miami’s lead grew to 11 early in the fourth quarter on the strength of Butler and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson (playoff career-high 26 points). But the Lakers responded with a 17-3 run, capped by five straight points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to take a 99-96 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Each of Robinson’s seven three-pointers felt monumental, and the last of them gave the Heat a 101-99 lead, breathing new life into a stagnant offense with 3:16 left. Over the next two minutes, until Davis’ put-back, James and Butler traded the game’s next 13 points. James got to the line for two. Butler answered with a jumper. James countered with a three-point play. Butler responded with a fadeaway. James put back his own miss. And two more Butler free throws gave Miami a 107-106 lead with 46 ticks remaining.

In all, the duel between Finals MVP candidates yielded five lead changes on five straight possessions.

“That’s the beauty of the game, being able to compete at the highest level,” James told reporters in defeat. “You take those opportunities, you live in the moment and try to make plays for your team to be successful on both ends. We were both just trying to do that and trying to will our team to a victory, and he was able to make one more play than I was able to make tonight and come away with the victory.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel was less gracious.

“I felt two bad calls at the end put Butler to the line,” he said unprompted in his postgame press conference. “That’s unfortunate in a game of this magnitude. Anthony Davis has a perfect verticality, and that should be a play-on. The time before that, Markieff Morris has his hand on the ball. That should be a play-on. They give him four free throws and make it an uphill battle for us, so I’m very disappointed.”

James scored 40 points on 15-for-21 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds, seven assists and three turnovers, and the Lakers needed all of them. They got 28 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks from Davis, but the All-NBA big man re-aggravated a right heel contusion in the opening half. He returned, only to tweak it again late in the loss. Davis was clearly hobbled in the final minutes.

“Re-aggravated it,” Davis told reporters afterwards, “but I’ll be fine on Sunday.”

So, it took a vintage performance from James to combat the Heat, but Butler did the legend one better. Again. Two games after submitting his first career playoff triple-double, Butler logged his second, playing all but 48 seconds. It could take a third to force a Game 7 against one of the greatest players in history.

And if Butler has taught us anything in his first trip to the Finals, it is that he will be game for another fight.

“I’m sure they wanted to win, thought they were going to win coming into it, as did we,” added Butler, “but it was a hard-fought game. And it’s going to be even harder next game, but I like our chances.”

Heat star Jimmy Butler fought for every one of his 35 points against the Lakers. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Heat star Jimmy Butler fought for every one of his 35 points against the Lakers. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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