Beaten up, Jimmy Butler refuses to back down to Lakers in Game 5

Beaten up, Jimmy Butler refuses to back down to Lakers in Game 5

Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler slumped over the barricade underneath the basket across from the Lakers’ bench, the wear-and-tear of an incredible Game 5 suddenly crushing him.

He’d been on the receiving end of a wild elbow from Dwight Howard that left him in a pile under that same basket. He got up. This time, after drawing a foul, he buckled at the waist and collapsed.

“Take your time,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said over and over as Butler tried to steal seconds of rest in the 111-108 defeat of the Lakers.

Total exhaustion, a tank emptied now about to be refilled with one last burst of will.

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“That’s what it’s all about,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the image of a champion.”

As the Heat walked into their locker room, knowing their bags don’t need to be packed, assistant general manager Adam Simon said, “We’re still here.”

And it’s because of Butler’s will that no flights will be booked here early Saturday morning.

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The Heat extended their stay in the bubble, beating the Lakers on the back of the bubble’s pop-up coffee shop owner, the player who has put any questions about his status in this league to rest.

“That’s what my team has asked from me,” Butler said. “That’s what they need me to do.”

Jimmy Butler is elite. He’s a superstar.

And he’s good enough to beat LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers.

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“Every young player in this league should study him,” Spoelstra said. “He was remarkable, exceptional tonight, just from a competitive standpoint. I really mean that. The draft is coming up in, whenever, a month, they should study Jimmy Butler as a two-way player.

“But we can’t celebrate this too long, we got to move on and rest up and get ready for another one. This just inches us closer to our goal, that’s it.”

After Game 3, when Butler’s 40-point triple-double made the series 2-1 Lakers, Spoelstra walked into the postgame news conference and anointed him “Jimmy Effing Butler.” After 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in Game 5, Spoelstra said he’s earned the full F-bomb.

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With Goran Dragic out and Bam Adebayo fighting a neck injury, it’s been primarily on Butler to do everything — score, rebound, pass and defend. He’s played at least 43 minutes in the last four NBA Finals games.

It was more than him Friday — Robinson’s shooting and Kendrick Nunn’s aggression playing major factors in the outcome. But it’s obvious that Butler’s spirit drives it all.

And Friday, he sat out of the game for just 48 seconds.

“I left it all out there on the floor,” Butler said.

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He groaned as he walked onto the stage and took a deep breath.

He extended his legs, Vans on his feet. As he talked, he got more comfortable, his amazing ability to recover already happening in real time.

As the Lakers broke their pregame huddle following introductions, James calmly said, “One, two, three. Dominate.”

And then Butler did.

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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.

Just as Davis did to him, Butler often found himself squared up into Davis’ chest, trying to stop a player much bigger than him. The same went for possessions against James where Butler is one of the few players in the league who can credibly try and match James’ physicality.

Now, he and the Heat have to do it two more times.

“It’s going to take everything we have,” Spoelstra said.

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They’re getting everything Butler’s got.

Since the Heat knew they’d be facing the Lakers in the Finals, Butler said the Heat need to be “damn near perfect” to win.

“He’s been as close to perfect as you can possibly get,” Adebayo said.

It’s clear that the Heat think they can get there again. They’ve insisted they’re not here simply to get in the Lakers’ way. They’re here to stop the Lakers from getting in theirs.

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“We’re here to win. We’re here to win,” Butler repeated as his smile widened. “For these next two, we’re in the trenches.”

Beaten up, exhausted, whatever — Butler hasn’t let the Heat quit. He’s continued to get up.

As Robinson told him “take your time” when he slumped over the barrier, Butler relished it.

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He, more than anyone, knew his team would have more.

“We live for these moments,” Butler said.

Jimmy Butler, more than anyone, trusted his team would have more.

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