LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With 46 seconds left in Friday night’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals, arena staffers lugged bags of white and gold confetti onto the carpeted floor and set them by the baseline of the court. The celebration accessories turned out to be premature, however, largely because of Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler.
Shortly after, Butler hit two free throws to give the Heat a one-point lead. Another pair of free throws 30 seconds later gave Miami a lead it didn’t relinquish.
Butler finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in 47 minutes, 12 seconds on the floor. The Heat defeated the Lakers 111-108 to force a Game 6, which will be played Sunday.
“I’m sure they wanted to win and thought they were going to win going into it, as did we,” Butler said.
The wear on Butler’s body was on display when he walked into his postgame news conference. He sat down slowly, grimacing slightly, clutching his left quadriceps and sighing. Once he settled into his chair, he got up and said he had “nothing” left to give.
“I left it all out on the floor along with my guys,” Butler said. “And that’s how we’re gonna have to play from here on out. Like I always say: It’s win or win for us.”
Over the past 10 postseasons, Butler has played 15 games in which he went 45 minutes or more. That’s the third most in the NBA behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Before hitting the free throws that helped to seal the victory, Butler was slumped over a railing, exhausted, collecting himself.
“His will to win is remarkable,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after the Heat pulled to 3-2 in the best-of-seven Finals. “Every young player coming into this league should study footage on Jimmy Butler. The definition of a two-way player.”
Images of Butler’s arms draped over the black padding of the video boards — with 46.7 seconds left in the game — have gone viral.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Spoelstra said. “That’s an image of a champion before you’re a champion.”
Spoelstra cut his rotation to only seven players in Game 5: Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala and Kendrick Nunn. While Robinson scored 26 points and Nunn had 14 off the bench, Adebayo finished with just 13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers.
“He’s been as close to perfect as you can possibly get,” Adebayo said of Butler. “On my part, I got to be better for him, so he doesn’t have to carry that load as much. So my mindset is I got to be better for Jimmy, for my team.”
Butler has repeatedly said that to beat the Lakers, the Heat will have to exhibit basketball perfection. On Friday night, Butler again noted that every game, winning becomes more challenging.
“I think it’s going to be even harder for us next game,” Butler said. “But I like our chances.”
ESPN’s Nick Friedell contributed to this report.