ORLANDO (AFP) – Jimmy Butler put the Miami Heat on his back in the final minutes and refused to let their championship dreams die, outduelling LeBron James down the stretch in the NBA Finals.
Playing to the point of exhaustion and beyond, Butler scored 35 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, passed off 11 assists and made five steals in Miami’s 111-108 victory yesterday over the Los Angeles Lakers, pulling within 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
“His will to win is remarkable,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To do that in 47-plus minutes and take the challenge on the other end, every young player coming into this league should study footage on Jimmy Butler.”
Butler shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 12-of-12 from the free throw line in a game-high 47 minutes for a Miami squad that used only seven players.
The weary playmaker slumped on an advertisement board beyond the end of the court before hitting the free throws that put the Heat ahead to stay with 16.8 seconds remaining.
“I left it all out there on the floor along with my guys,” Butler said. “And that’s what we’re going to have to do the rest of the way. We’ve got two more games to get.”
Butler traded scores with four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James on six straight possessions in the final two minutes, carrying Miami just far enough to force a Game 6 tomorrow (7.30am Brunei time).
“That’s what the team asked of me. That’s what they need me to do,” Butler said. “I know I’m capable of it. I have a great group of guys around me. That gives me a lot of confidence to go out there and hoop.”
James admitted Butler outplayed him down the stretch.
“That was back and forth, big play after big play,” James said. “That’s the beauty of the game, being able to compete at the highest level. You take those opportunities and live in the moment. We were both just trying to do that and lead our teams to victory. He was able to make one more play than I was tonight and get the victory.”
The key play was a foul call on LA’s Anthony Davis with 16.8 seconds to play when Butler drove to the hoop, one James lamented.
“I thought he was chest to chest with Jimmy and the call didn’t go our way. It was a tough call,” James said. “He has been near perfect at the free throw line in this series.”
The Lakers played a physical game against Butler, trying in vain to drain his strength but instead sparking the flames of his determination despite the fatigue.
“We ain’t backing down,” Butler vowed. “We ain’t shying away. We’re going to go down and do what we do. We ain’t backing down. We ain’t scared of nobody.”
Butler believes not only in himself but in his teammates.
“I believe in my skill set and my talent,” Butler said. “So as long as we stay together and play basketball the right way, no matter how they guard me, I’m going to make the right play.”