THE Heat are still alive, stealing a 111-108 victory yesterday with Jimmy Butler as Miami’s chief thief — again.
Butler buried two free throws for Miami’s 109-108 lead as he went 11-for-11 at the stripe before allowing Tyler Herro to finish off the Lakers with Herro’s own charities at the 1.6-second mark for the final count.
I was simply stunned by Butler’s boundless energy, his wrist, if not his pulse, still so steady and calm in the waning seconds despite having played almost the entirety of the 48-minute game.
He was like a sea diver that never needed his oxygen tank filled full.
He was all over shooting, rebounding, guarding.
He never backed down against LeBron James, this planet’s greatest player.
When James tied it at 101, Butler jumped back quick for Miami’s 103-101 lead with 1:51 left.
When James countered with a three-point play for the Lakers’ 104-103 margin, Butler jumped again for Miami’s 105-104 advantage with barely a minute left.
And when James followed up his own miss on the return play, Butler didn’t budge, sinking his 8-9 free throws for Miami’s 107-106 lead with 46.7 left.
After Anthony Davis and Butler would next swap shots for the Heat’s 109-108 lead, Lakers coach Frank Vogel called timeout at the 16.8-second mark.
But the Lakers lost it all when Danny Green, usually arc-steady, completely missed a three from James’ pass. And then Morris Markieff totally blew it when he flung a wild feed for Davis underneath the basket.
Miami’s win put to naught LeBron James’ 40-point effort, 13 rebounds and seven assists and Davis’ double-double of 28 points and 12 rebounds.
But, more importantly, it nudged the Heat to within 3-2 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals at the Disney World complex near Orlando in Florida.
Who would have thought Miami could go this far — its back against the wall after falling 3-1 to a team highly touted to prevail by 4-0 and end a decade-long title drought—its longest?
Monday’s Game 6 might be all Miami again if we go by momentum so that a 3-3 standoff wouldn’t be far-fetched.
Suddenly, it’s not LeBron, 35, anymore dictating, deciding, the outcome.
Make way for Butler, 31. So brave. So slick a thief.