Column: How the gritty Heat grinded out Game 5 win over Lakers
The Miami Heat’s belief never died. Not in the face of a 40-point performance by LeBron James on Friday, not in the face of a dizzying fourth-quarter push by the Lakers that seemed fated to end with stored-up confetti falling from the rafters and the Lakers clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy as the NBA champions.
For each punch delivered by the Lakers — and they unleashed many blows that wounded the Heat’s defense and tested their physical and mental reserves — Miami had a resounding response. Jimmy Butler made the loudest statement with a 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist triple-double and by playing all but 48 seconds, but he had a chorus of loud voices behind him as the Heat postponed the Lakers’ expected coronation by earning a thrilling 111-108 victory in Game 5 of the Finals.
“Jimmy said win or win,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said, “so we don’t really have an option at this point. So tonight we left it all out there, and we’re going to have to do that the next two games.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra used just seven players but each played his role with poise and an unwavering purpose. Herro scored 12 points, including the two free throws that provided Miami’s final three-point margin. Duncan Robinson scored 26, hitting seven of 13 three-point shots. Kendrick Nunn came off the bench to contribute 14 points to an effort that required each of those points to extend the Finals to Game 6 Sunday.
“I thought we had some big-time performances across the board tonight,” Robinson said, with typical understatement.
Nothing less than their last ounce of energy would have sufficed on Friday. The Lakers, previously invincible in their Black Mamba jerseys, were a handful of minutes away from ending this pandemic-interrupted season and escaping the league’s Florida playoff bubble, and every player on the Heat sensed the anticipation building in AdventHealth Arena. They knew the trophy was in the building. They simply weren’t ready to see someone else claim it.
Photos from Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and Miami Heat in Orlando, Fla. The Miami Heat won the game, 111-108.
They were aware of the process and pieces were in place for the Lakers to celebrate. “It’s hard not to,” Robinson said. “We just want to go embrace it. We’ve got a bunch of dogs in that locker room…. It wasn’t always perfect, but we made things happen.”
Robinson was in the middle of that, with his 16-point performance in the second half.
“Those are the games we expect him to have,” Butler said in an on-court interview after the game. “He’s so confident. He’s going to continually do it. He’s going to be the reason that we win the next one.”
If that’s brash, they’ve earned the right to feel that way. They didn’t break down while James hit 15 of 21 shots on Friday, including six of nine from three-point range. They gritted their teeth while Davis, momentarily hampered by a sore heel, bounced back for a 28-point performance. They gave up what had been an 11-point lead but didn’t give up hope, and that’s what carried them through a tense final few minutes.
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That fearlessness and belief have become an indelible part of their identity during an unexpected playoff run that they expect to last two more games. “I thought it was some growth for us, Robinson said of the Heat’s ability to pull out a close game. “Some maturity and growth and just a will to win.” Will doesn’t always prevail against the Lakers’ two-headed monster. But the Heat, seeded No. 5 in the East, have made a habit of defying predictions and doubters. They gave up listening to the outside chatter a long time ago, preferring to draw strength from within their locker room and their group. That won’t change now.
“We don’t really care what people have to say,” Herro said. “It’s 3-2 and I’m sure there’s still people counting us out. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. We have two more games to win. We know that the job isn’t done.”
Their self confidence and fight carried them through another unlikely win to another chance to keep their dreams alive. They were exhausted afterward, depleted physically, but not in spirit. “It was a hard-fought game. It’s going to be even harder for us next game,” Butler said. “But I like our chances.”
The Lakers lost their first chance to clinch the franchise’s 17th NBA championship with a 111-108 oss to the Miami Heat on Friday night in Orlando, Fla.
Butler and the Heat made a compelling case for themselves and their chances Friday. They’ll have to do it again Sunday, so they didn’t spend much time patting themselves on the back for extending their season by one game. They’re not afraid of the Lakers. And hope can be a powerful force. It already has guided them this far.
Elliott reported from Los Angeles.
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