Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers featured some of the best LeBron James basketball we’ve ever seen.
40 points on 15 of 21 shooting, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.
Who can stop that… am I right?
That was until James and the Los Angeles Lakers once again ran into their kryptonite, Jimmy Butler, who put the Heat on his back to force a Game 6. Notching a 35 point triple-double, Butler’s heroics once again outmatched LeBron and L.A., who are bound to fall in Miami’s mousetrap.
It’s not every day that you see a dominant performance from James and his club still loses.
That means the Heat are doing something right.
“We’re playing desperate. We’re playing hard. We’re playing together,” Bam Adebayo said following Miami’s 111-108 victory. “Our backs are against the wall. We are playing hard. Be dominant, or burst pipes.”
But what is coach Erik Spoelstra’s team exactly doing to force L.A. into pressure-filled situations? What was adjusted heading into a win-or-go-home scenario for the Heat?
Let’s take a look.
1.) Forcing the ball in the hands of players not named LeBron or AD.
It’s as basic as it gets: keep the ball away from LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but as advocated before, it’s the only way this Heat team can pull away.
Late in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s contest exemplified just that, as Miami’s triple-team on James with under 11 seconds left forced a kick-out to Danny Green, who missed the game-winning three-pointer. While it was wide open, it was a gamble Spoelstra and the Heat were willing to take.
And it payed off.
Players not named LeBron or Anthony on the Lakers have struggled finding their groove ever since Game 1, especially their bench. A quartet of Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso garnered just 14 points on 5 of 22 shooting (22.72 percent). To put that total into perspective, Kendrick Nunn had 14 points himself, on an impressive 6 of 11 shooting.
This isn’t the only time either. In Game 3, other than Kuzma and Morris, L.A. missed attributions from Danny Green (0 of 6), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1 of 5), Rondo (2 of 8) and Caruso (1 of 4). That ultimately was crucial to Miami’s first win of the best-of-seven-series.
Far too many times have we seen the Heat willing to allow an open corner three-pointer rather than a James or Davis cut to the basket. While it seems odd, it’s payed off, and unless the Lakers can take advantage like they did in the series-opener, Spoelstra will continue to utilize that woe from the Lakers.
2.) Duncan Robinson seems to be more comfortable on both ends of the court.
It’s been a known issue for the Heat time-and-time again. When Duncan Robinson can’t seem to get his shot on-point, he becomes a liability, mainly because of his poor defense against some of the league’s top forwards. However, since the Eastern Conference Finals, Robinson has developed a greater ability to adapt to what is needed on the court.
And it’s making the Heat better than ever.
There’s no hiding that Robinson has struggled shooting in the Finals, but that slump seems to be over. The second-year pro totaled 26 points on 8 of 15 shooting, adding 5 rebounds and 2 assists to his arsenal. The talented forward came in big on both sides of the court, drawing a charge on LeBron James with 9:05 remaining and draining a 27-foot shot from downtown to regain Miami the lead.
Robinson’s confidence was off the charts last night, and it points to why Spoelstra chose to keep him in for that crucial defensive possession. Typically picked on for iso situations of James, the 6-foot-8 forward was no liability in Game 5. He ended up with a +7 plus/minus, the highest of any Heat player Friday.
This isn’t the first time, either.
Regardless of his poor 4 of 13 shooting in Game 3, Robinson racked up a +27, the highest plus/minus of any player in that game. What could it be? Making stops defensively, finding open players, grabbing rebounds.
It’s about time that he’s found his rhythm on the shooting end. That’s just bound to make Miami even better.
3.) Miami didn’t fall into L.A.’s advantages.
Entering Game 5, the Lakers possessed a 56-0 record this season when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. Their most recent example came in Game 4, where Miami’s sloppy final-minute play earned L.A. a 75-70 lead heading into the final 12 minutes.
The Heat made sure to stay away from that statistic, using a 6-2 run in the final 55.8 seconds of the third quarter to keep a 88-82 lead to start the fourth.
Because of such, they were able to regroup from L.A.’s scoring runs and stay in the game rather than have to overcome a deficit against a James-led group.
4.) Put the ball in the hands of Jimmy Butler III.
Time and time again, Jimmy Butler is doing what many have shied away from.
Since Miami’s Game 1 blowout, Butler’s averaged 30.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 11.5 assists and 2.8 steals, all while sitting just 14 minutes in a span of four games. And in a must-win Game 5, Butler played 47 minutes and 11 seconds, sitting for just 48 seconds Friday night.
The Butler-takeover was in full effect in Game 5, scoring Miami’s final 11 points, outscoring the entire Lakers team during that stretch. Better yet, he became the second player in NBA history to record two 30 point triple-doubles in an NBA Finals series. The other? LeBron James.
At the same time, Butler has spent 34:35 minutes of the series guarding James, a miraculous stat itself. That goes to show the desire he has to win a title.
“We’re still fighting. We’re in it to win it. We’re not backing down,” Butler said postgame. “We’re not scared of nobody.”
This series is far from over, it’s just getting started.
Things have began to click.