The Miami Heat were facing elimination in Game 5 Friday night, but the biggest surprise team from inside the bubble wasn’t ready for its season to come to an end. Thanks largely to a 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance from Jimmy Butler, Miami was able to pull out a 111-108 win over the Lakers to extend the NBA Finals and force a Game 6 Sunday night.
The Lakers still lead the series 3-2, but the Heat were definitely able to capture some momentum with their performance. While Butler led the way for Miami, he had a lot of help as five other Heat players scored in double figures, including Duncan Robinson, who tallied 26 points and dropped seven 3s.
Los Angeles still holds a 3-2 Finals lead in the series, but will need more from its role players in Game 6. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 68 points, but only one other player on the team even scored in double figures. A bit more of a balanced attack would be beneficial for the Lakers. James and Davis can do a whole lot on the floor, but they can’t do everything.
Here’s everything you need to know about Game 6 between the Lakers and Heat.
Date: Sunday, Oct. 11 | 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Disney Wide World of Sports — Orlando, Florida
TV: ABC I Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Live Stream: ESPN.com or ESPN app
Odds: Lakers -5 | Over/Under: 214.5
Lakers: The biggest concern for the Lakers heading into Game 6 is the health of Anthony Davis, who re-aggravated a heel contusion he suffered in the previous series against the Denver Nuggets. Although he remained in the game, he was clearly bothered by the heel. He was “struggling to move a little bit,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said after the loss. The Lakers have relied heavily on Davis on both ends of the floor throughout the series, and him being healthy will greatly impact the Lakers’ ability to close out the series against the Heat.
Heat: Miami is still down in the series, but should feel relatively good about where its at. The Heat won Game 3, lost Game 4 by just six points and then bested the Lakers again in Game 5. Jimmy Butler is playing the best basketball of his career, and his getting help from a plethora of other contributors. The Heat are missing starting point guard Goran Dragic throughout the series, and his status for Game 6 is not known yet. Although highly improbable with a torn plantar fascia in his left, Dragic’s return would obviously be a big boost for Miami.
LeBron James delivered an epic performance in Game 5, and it still wasn’t enough for the Lakers to pull out a win. But while James himself can’t possibly be much better in Game 6, those around him can. Davis finished Game 5 with 28 points, but he was clearly hampered by his heel. The Lakers are hoping that he feels a bit better on Sunday night. Outside of James and Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the only other Laker to score in double figures, and that will need to change for the Lakers to close out the series. With a title hanging in the balance, expect LeBron to come out focused and set the tone for L.A. early in Game 6. If his supporting cast can follow his lead a bit better this time, the Lakers should come out on top.
LeBron James just posted a Finals masterpiece, and now he might need to do it again to clinch the championship
There’s no telling whether or not LeBron will be able to match his legendary Game 5 performance in Game 6
Once superstars reach a certain age, nothing can be taken for granted. It’s a lesson the Lakers have learned in the NBA Finals time and time again. In 2004, a 32-year-old Shaquille O’Neal became the oldest player in Finals history to score at least 35 points and grab 20 rebounds. In 1989, a 42-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar turned back the clock in Game 3 of the Finals to give the Lakers 24 points and 13 rebounds with Magic Johnson sidelined due to injury. The Lakers lost both games. They lost both series.
There was an undercurrent of waste to both performances. The losses themselves aren’t as devastating as the context. How many games like that did either have left in the tank? As it turned out, not too many, and the Lakers squandered both. They squandered another on Friday as LeBron James posted arguably the most efficient Finals game in NBA history. James set a new NBA record in shooting 71.4 percent from the field in a 40-point Finals performance, and in the process, he posted 13 rebounds and seven assists.
The Lakers can take some solace in the fact that such explosions are hardly rare for James. There have been 23 Finals games in which a player has finished with at least 40 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and LeBron has eight of them. He came two points short of doing so in the Western Conference finals clincher against Denver. LeBron isn’t on a retirement tour like Kareem was in ’89. He is still very much the best player in the NBA.
But he’s the best player in the NBA with the slightest of limitations that didn’t previously exist. James played “only” 41 minutes and 51 seconds in Game 5. That’s an enormous workload for a regular-season game and a downright minuscule one by LeBron playoff standards. It ranks as the 135th-most he’s played in any playoff game, and 30th in the Finals. That stands out in comparison to Miami star Jimmy Butler, who sat for only 48 seconds of Game 5.
LeBron still looks mostly like LeBron when he plays, but he plays less than ever, and it suggests that the burden of playing the way he does takes a significant toll. Butler is 31. When James was 31, he posted back-to-back 40-point Finals wins against the Golden State Warriors. I doubt anyone would expect Butler to do what he’s doing in this series four years from now. James has defied the age curve at every turn, but he is still fundamentally human. Consecutive masterpieces aren’t exactly the norm.
But he might need another to close out the Heat.
Anthony Davis wasn’t exactly his typically springy self after aggravating an existing heel injury in Game 5. There’s no telling how healthy he’ll be for Game 5, and if he can’t defend Butler, the Lakers will have to change their entire gameplan. Aside from Davis, his teammates are shooting only 32.5 percent from behind the arc in the Finals. James may have made the right play statistically in passing the final shot of Game 5 off to Danny Green, but the Lakers can handle only so many more misses. The more shots LeBron takes, the more his teammates don’t.
It’s a phenomenon James knows intimately. He’s had plenty of his own gems wasted by inferior teammates, none more so than the 51-point tour-de-force he dropped on Golden State in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. His teammates shot 3 of 16 from behind the arc off of his passes in the loss. His shooting guard forgot the score. He punched a whiteboard, broke his hand and the series was lost.
There’s no telling how far that injury went in slowing him down against the Warriors, but 51 points fell to 29 in Game 2 and never rose beyond 33 in the series. At 33, LeBron had one classic in the tank. At 35, he’s already spent that one. He hasn’t scored 30 points in consecutive games this postseason since a first-round walkover against the No. 27-ranked defense in the NBA.
He also hasn’t needed to. The Lakers went 15-3 in the first three rounds, and only one win came by fewer than five points. For all we know, his limits appear lower because his limits haven’t been tested.
They were on Friday. LeBron played Game 5 like someone that didn’t plan to play a Game 6. It was the best game he’s played all season, and now, if Davis is compromised and his shooters don’t course-correct, he might need to top it to deliver a championship to the Lakers.
This is LeBron James we’re talking about. History suggests that he can do anything. But it also punishes teams that squander throwback performances like the one he offered on Friday. Previous Lakers teams lost championships in part because they couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities their greying legends gave them, and in part because those legends could only give them those opportunities once. The Lakers might be able to afford to check one of those boxes. They can’t check both if they plan to avoid the same fate as their 1989 and 2004 counterparts.