Duncan Robinson’s emergence shows how X-factors could decide Lakers vs. Heat

Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson stands next to Lakers forward LeBron James as he watches a missed shot.
Miami guard Duncan Robinson played a central role in helping the Heat defeat LeBron James and the Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The way he walked onto and off the postgame stage, the way he’s piled up minutes like he’s forming a mountain, the way he’s imprinted the series with his personality and will, it might seem like Jimmy Butler is going it alone.

He’s not.

“It’s not just me,” Butler said.

In the NBA Finals, you can assume the stars are going to do their thing, that LeBron James is going to dominate, Anthony Davis is going to disrupt on both ends and Butler is going to pour his energy all over the court.

But the difference makers have been and will continue to be the supporting casts.

Friday, most notably, it was Duncan Robinson, the Heat’s sharpshooter who has gone from a Division III player to NBA Finals X-factor in six years. He had 26 points — 21 coming on three-point shots.


The Miami Heat staved off elimination from the NBA Finals on Friday with a 111-108 defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers in another gutty effort led by Jimmy Butler.

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“Every time he shoots, we feel like it’s going in,” Tyler Herro said. “We want him to be aggressive. We want him to continue to shoot balls almost every time he touches it. We want him to continue to shoot the ball and make sure his confidence is high.”

Earlier this postseason, Robinson acknowledged that some of the shots he takes stun even him, but that’s what Miami wants and needs. Robinson’s motion and threat from deep create the kind of space that Butler and the rest of the Heat need.

It’s why Butler had an important message for Robinson.

“Stop running from the basketball,” he told him. “Can’t shoot the ball if you don’t have the ball. I think he gets lost in trying to get other people open, when everybody is going to react to him probably more so than they’re going to react to me. A three is worth more than a two.

“So as long as he’s coming to the ball, shooting the ball when he’s open, when he’s not open, that’s the Duncan Robinson that we need, that we want, because that’s how he’s been playing all year long. And we’re going to need him to be even more aggressive for Game 6.”

Lakers' LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) walk on court with Heat's Bam Adebayo (13) and Jimmy Butler (22).
Lakers’ LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) walk on court with Heat’s Bam Adebayo (13) and Jimmy Butler (22). during Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday.
(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

There’s no doubt that however great James and Davis are, they’ll need help to close out the series. That couldn’t be more true than in the final seconds, when the ball found itself in Danny Green’s hands for an open shot that missed badly. And it was true for Markieff Morris, who turned it over when the Lakers needed a pass to be on target.


“They’re vets,” James said. “I don’t think too much needs to be said to them. I believe they will be much better and I’m not saying they even played bad tonight. Everybody in the lineup tonight that got minutes gave the effort. We just had some mental breakdowns at times.”

Dwight Howard’s recklessness was another breakdown, and it cost the Lakers a six-point possession for the Heat.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been the Lakers’ most consistent role player — his 31 points in the last two games are the most he’s had in back-to-back contests since January. He, like Robinson, has been incredibly valuable in spacing the floor.

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The Lakers are going to need him and more from their role players.

Whether it’s Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Green or Morris, if the great players are all playing great, those contributors might end up being the difference.

Just ask Butler. He knows it won’t be just him.

“We have been playing together, win, loss, draw, whatever. We’re in this thing together,” he said. “And that’s what’s going to win us games. I think night in and night out it could be anybody.

“Like we’re so together when we’re out there on the floor, off the floor. That’s why we win because everybody wants everybody to be successful.”