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Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat survived an epic Game 5 duel with LeBron and the Lakers. But there is still a long way to go.
Game 5 was the stuff legends are built with. A three-point win. Seven leads changes in the final four minutes. Duncan Robinson, an undrafted second-year wing, pouring in 26 points and drilling seven 3-pointers. On the other side, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a quaternary scorer, attacking closeouts, dropping in layups and drilling huge, momentum-shifting 3-pointers.
And the stars. Oh, the stars.
LeBron James, 40 points on 21 shots. Hitting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, putting up 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. Leaning one every bit of strength and experience to try and finish the job. And being pushed to his limits by Jimmy Butler, who rested for all of 49 seconds. Who put up another historic effort — 35 points on 19 shots, a perfect 12-of-12 from the line, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals and block. And doing all that after getting his bell rung by Dwight Howard, twice.
If this was a Game 7, if the title actually hinged on these clutch shots and manifestations of iron will, it would be among the greatest games in NBA history.
But it was Game 5.
The Heat stayed alive for a Game 6, but at what cost?
The Heat went all-in, playing Butler for essentially the entire game, wringing every drop they could from his refusal to lose. They got the best playoff game of Robinson’s young career, an Anthony Davis foot injury, Danny Green missing a wide-open potential game-winning 3-pointer, two giant brain farts from Markieff Morris on the game’s final possessions, and they still barely escaped. For all the incredible individual elements that went into this game and the final outcome, it felt anticlimactic.
Survival, I suppose, is victory of a sort. The Heat caught plenty of breaks, but the Lakers caught their share too. Not all of the lightning strikes hit in the same spot. The Heat have won two of five games with a similar formula (and one of two with Bam Adebayo on the floor). It’s not inconceivable to think that it could work again … and then again … especially if Davis’ foot injury is nagging.
But the energy doesn’t match the moment. It doesn’t feel like the Heat have stolen momentum or mojo and Jimmy Butler even acknowledged as much in his postgame interview. Rachel Nichols asked him where the team goes from here, a rhetorical question about intentions and motivations. Butler’s answer couldn’t have been more literal: “Back to the hotel to get better.”
The Heat pulled off an epic victory in extreme circumstances, and their prize is the same long odds and a chance to rest for 36 hours while the hydra regrows all its heads.