I'd like to start this article off with an apology to our Editor-In-Chief, Will Tondo. Yesterday morning, you texted me with a parlay containing Yankees game 5 over, Lakers-Heat Game 5 under, and the Laker ML. I replied with "lock." Oh, how wrong I was.
I'm going to be completely honest, Waking up on Friday morning, I really thought I was going to be writing about the Lakers championship run, how LeBron has solidified his place in the GOAT conversation, yadda yadda yadda. However, given the result of one of arguably the best basketball game of the year, that's not what I'm here to do.
Recording a triple-double in 47 minutes, 12 seconds of playing time, Jimmy Butler has kept the Miami Heat alive for one more game on Sunday. While I still think the Lakers will come out on top this series, there are a lot of variables going into Game 6. Here's what each team should be looking out for.
How Miami Can Win:
There's no question as to whether or not Butler put Miami on his back last night. With a historic stat line of 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, and 5 steals, to say Butler left it all out on the court is as big of an understatement as you could get. Luckily, it's not likely that Butler is going to have to do that much on Sunday to sneak in another win against Los Angeles.
Miami's biggest strength is how well they share the ball. In last night's win, despite only seven players stepping foot on the court, six Miami players scored in double digit figures. Playing without Goran Dragic and a hobbled Bam Adebayo since Game 1, young stars Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro have picked up the slack by providing consistent shots from beyond the arc.
Not only was Miami's shooting consistent enough to keep them alive the entire game, even after giving up some substantial runs by the Lakers, but it was clutch, most notably from Robinson's seventh three, which put Miami up 101-99 and turned the tide of the last three minutes. In Friday's win, Robinson tied the record for third-most three pointers made in an NBA Finals game.
Defensively, the Heat started this series rough, but eventually made the right adjustments to keep themselves alive. It honestly baffles me that they continued to run the zone in Game 2, but whatever. We saw none of the zone tonight, as Butler continued to try and lockdown LeBron while Bam contested AD down low. While Miami's main strength doesn't come on defense, their pressure on AD is what got them the win in game 3.
Of course, at the center of Miami's success is Butler. Both on and off the court, Butler has shirked critics and proven that he can be a leader when his team needs him most. According to Duncan Robinson, Butler has been instrumental in his development, constantly pushing him and his other teammates to outperform themselves night after night. If Butler can keep this mental momentum building, I really think the Heat could force a game 7.
How Los Angeles Can Lose:
Regardless of the praise I have for Miami in this series, the Lakers are still very much in control of the series. Coming back down 3-1 in the playoffs isn't something we haven't seen, especially this year, but the only players to do so in the Finals currently have the series lead. Notice how I made sure that was plural. I have to give my boy JR his credit where it's due. However, most of my credit for LA after last night stops there.
When looking at what is keeping the Heat alive in this series, their depth, I think the opposite can be said about why the Lakers' grip on these Finals is slipping. This series can't be the LeBron and AD show anymore, because when either of these two players were under pressure last night and had to turn to a teammate for help, they weren't really there.
I think the last possession of Game 5 was emblematic of that. With the clock winding down, James realized that he could not finish his drive to the bucket successfully, and kicked it out to Danny Green, who bricked it for the eighth time that night, his third missed shot from three. For those of you who say that LeBron should have just finished the drive himself, the man had 40 points. He'd done enough to warrant some help from his team.
Don't get me wrong, several Lakers players have had solid performances in the first four games of this series. In Game 2 Rajon Rondo channeled some energy from 2008 to put up 16 points and 10 assists. Kyle Kuzma has shined in his first finals, averaging 10.8 points per game in the series. Alex Caruso is there, putting in the most average performance to the most disproportionate hype since Brian Scalabrine.
However, with the Larry O'Brien trophy in sight, the Lakers could not capitalize, with just three players scoring in the double digits on Friday night. Along with this subpar performance, Anthony Davis appeared to have suffered a minor ankle injury. He lightly jogged it off and came back to finish the game, scoring 28, but limped off the court after the final buzzer.
He's done it before, but I'm not sure how far LeBron can push the Lakers on his own if AD is going to have to have some limited minutes in Game 6. With a healthy AD, I think LA is going to clinch the series on Sunday, albeit in a very close game.