How? How the hell did Jimmy Butler play 47 minutes and 12 seconds in a must-win NBA Finals game and do that?
The Miami Heat, dead in the water after losing their two other best players in Game 1, are going to play in Game 6 on Sunday night, thanks to their cheesebutt, coffee-slinging, superhuman star. A 35-point triple-double, a handful of clutch shots and free throws in the fourth quarter, two incredible defensive plays to keep Miami alive … Butler did it all. He had the juice, and Miami is still alive thanks to it.
The stats almost speak for themselves, but it was really Butler’s final few minutes that serve as a microcosm for his second incredible performance of these bubbled-up Finals. Sure, it was over Markieff Morris—who also lost Butler on the subsequent Miami possession that led to free throws, all before lobbing the ball out of bounds on the Lakers’ final actual possession; not a great final stretch for ‘Keef. But that last turn-around jumper, on dead legs, may be the biggest shot Butler has ever hit. Of course that’s barring the need for more heroics in Games 6 and possibly 7. He ended with 11 points in the clutch in Game 5, outscoring the Lakers’ nine all by himself.
Following Miami’s blowout loss in Game 1, Butler has averaged 30.5 points, 11.5 assists, and 10.3 rebounds per game, on a stupid 54.8 percent shooting. He’s been everything Miami has needed to keep games close, and in Games 3 and 5, he did enough to get them the wins. Butler didn’t do it alone on Friday, of course. Duncan Robinson had the most important game of his career, adding in 26 points while going 7-of-13 from three-point range, as well as a solitary put-back dunk from inside the arc. Kendrick Nunn reverted into Regular Season Kendrick Nunn, keeping the Heat afloat against the flood of Lakers’ paint excursions. And Tyler Herro hit two clutch free throws of his own at the end to give Miami its final three-point lead.
But fuck that. This was Jimmy Butler’s night, just like Game 3 was Jimmy Butler’s night. And it had to be, because Friday night was one missed Danny Green three-pointer away from being LeBron James’s night. It will never get old watching LeBron explode like he did on Friday: 40 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, including a barrage of nearly-back-breaking threes (6-of-9 on the night). The pair also guarded each other for most of the night, though the Lakers’ preference for switching every screen kept letting Butler match up against more favorable Lakers defenders, such as Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. There was no such luxury on the other end; even when Butler switched off James, he often found himself guarding Anthony Davis, who had a very quiet 28 points on the night. The entire game could be boiled down to the Butler-LeBron duel, and though LeBron came out on top individually, it wasn’t enough.
There will be time to diagram and analyze the Heat’s offensive and defensive adjustments, and Danny Green will surely replay that final missed three while staring out into Disney World for the next couple of days. But in a game that was as good as any Finals game has ever been, Jimmy Butler shaped the proceedings to his image. It was ugly at times (Miami started the fourth on 2-of-12 shooting, allowing L.A. back into the game), it was sublime at others, but for all but 48 seconds, it featured Jimmy Butler. His reward? He probably has to do that two more times to win the title. No pressure.