Jimmy Butler warned everybody within earshot throughout the playoffs. If they weren’t paying attention, the Los Angeles Lakers surely now understand the power of the Miami Heat’s cohesion and depth.
“This didn’t just start in the bubble,” Butler said after leading Miami’s 111-108 win over the Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. “We have been playing together — win, loss, draw, whatever — and that’s what’s going to win us games.
“Night in and night out, it could be anybody [stepping up to win games]. It could be Bam [Adebayo], it could be hopefully Goran [Dragic]. We’re so together when we’re out there on the floor, off the floor. That’s why we win, because everybody wants everybody to be successful.”
Butler averaged 44 minutes in Games 2-4, then played all but 48 seconds Friday en route to a 35-point triple-double that helped the Heat stay alive for at least one more game.
Miami knows it needs even more from Butler to harbor realistic hopes of overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win the series. But it also expects heavier contributions in Game 6 on both sides of the floor from supporting cast players such as Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro.
Robinson ratcheted up the aggression offensively in Game 5 to wallop the Lakers for 26 points and seven 3-pointers, while Nunn, a rookie, contributed 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Herro added 12 points, and his accuracy as a shooter demands he’s always accounted for by the defense.
So, with Adebayo missing two games earlier this series due to a strained neck, and Dragic (torn left plantar fascia) remaining doubtful for Game 6 after his injury in the series opener, Miami understands how much it stands to benefit from someone else picking up their production to complement Butler’s output.
“Absolutely, it was going to require more from everybody,” Robinson explained. “That’s something that we talked about.”
It should continue moving forward for the Heat. But the Lakers need to conduct their own talks about fully recognizing the importance of fighting to neutralize much more than just Butler.
“I don’t know what they’re going to throw at me on any given night, but I think whatever you throw at me it’s not going to work because if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it,” Butler said. “If I’m not, I’m going to pass it to Duncan or Tyler or K-Nunn or Bam or Jae [Crowder] and they’re going to make the shot.”
In Game 4, Los Angeles threw LeBron James and Anthony Davis at Butler constantly, and the veteran swingman still managed to score 22 points to go with 10 rebounds and nine assists. Herro, Robinson, Nunn and Adebayo combined for 59 points, but the Lakers held on to win 102-96.
That same group accounted for 65 points in Game 5. As Miami prepped for that contest, Butler implored Robinson “to stop running from the basketball.”
“Can’t shoot the ball if you don’t have the ball,” Butler said. “As long as he’s coming to the ball when he’s open, when he’s not open, that’s the Duncan Robinson that we need, that we want, because that’s how he’s been playing all year long. And we’re going to need him to be even more aggressive for Game 6.”
It’s likely Los Angeles anticipates as much from Robinson, especially. But the rest of Miami’s supporting cast appears to have gained confidence as this series has progressed. The Lakers haven’t been able to consistently contain Butler as a scorer or facilitator. So, Los Angeles’ focus could easily shift towards the beneficiaries of Butler’s passes.
“Duncan Robinson came up too many times wide open,” Davis said. “Two four-point plays, offensive rebounds, stuff that we can control.”
Davis wants to use Los Angeles’ late-game heartbreak from Game 5 as “fuel” for Sunday’s clash, but insisted the Lakers aren’t feeling pressure after losing for the first time this season in their Kobe Bryant-designed “Black Mamba” uniforms. The Lakers need only one win to capture the title. Miami needs two.
“You come back, you look at the film, fix your mistakes, then come out in Game 6 remembering how close we were,” Davis said. “If we don’t make our mistakes, we win the game. It’s a tough one because we know we had this one in the bag.”
Miami listened to all the talk going into Game 5 that pointed toward a pending Lakers coronation. Said Herro, “Everybody counted us out since the beginning of the playoffs.”
So this current situation isn’t uncharted territory for the Heat. Coming off Friday’s victory, having built some momentum for Game 6, they’ll hit the court on Sunday and see the confetti machines stationed somewhere near the court, and they’ll smile the way Butler does every time his team’s back is against the wall facing elimination.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra expects nothing less from a team that revels in adversity.
“We are here competing for a title, and that’s the most important storyline, and it’s going to take everything we have,” he said. “But this is everything that our guys in our locker room wanted. It’s this kind of competition between four lines, two baskets. You can’t write or print out the winner on this one.
“This one has to be earned between those four lines, and that’s where our guys thrive.”
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