LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With less than 10 seconds left and the Los Angeles Lakers trailing by one Friday, LeBron James appeared to be putting the final touches on a 40-point masterpiece to clinch his fourth NBA title. Draped by seemingly the entire Miami Heat defense, James, who led the league in assists for the first time in his career this season, whipped a pass to a wide-open Danny Green at the top of the key.
Green, a two-time champion and 40% career 3-point shooter whose nickname is “Deadshot” because of his reputation as a marksman, was signed by L.A. last offseason for moments such as this one: spacing the floor and capitalizing on James’ ability to create shots.
Green let it fly with no defender within 8 feet of him, according to data from Second Spectrum. The ball clanked off the front rim with 7.1 seconds remaining, and Miami held on to win Game 5 111-108, drawing within 3-2 of the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
“I mean, if you just look at the play, I was able to draw two defenders below the free throw line and find one of our shooters at the top of the key for a wide-open 3 to win a championship,” James said after finishing with a gaudy stat line of 15-for-21 shooting, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. “I trusted him, we trusted him, and it just didn’t go.
“You live with that. You live with that. It’s one of the best shots that we could have got. … Danny had a helluva look. It just didn’t go down. I know he wishes he can have it again.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James was “ready to take on [Miami’s] whole team,” but “he made the right play.”
“Danny is one of our best shooters, he had a great look, and we live with the results,” he said.
Vogel was less accepting of two fouls called against his team while defending Jimmy Butler in the final minute that helped the Heat close out the game and extend the series. One of the fouls was called against Markieff Morris with 46.7 seconds remaining, and another was against Anthony Davis with 16.8 seconds left.
“I felt two bad calls at the end put Butler to the line, you know, and that’s unfortunate in a game of this magnitude,” Vogel said. “Anthony Davis has a perfect verticality, should be a play-on. And the time before that, Markieff Morris has his hands on the ball — that should be a play-on. They were given four free throws and made it an uphill battle for us. Very disappointed in that aspect of the game.”
L.A. was not at the top of its game, trailing by as many as 11 in the second quarter before tying it in the third quarter, only to fall down by 11 again with 10:31 remaining in the fourth.
The first-half hole in which the Lakers found themselves happened mostly with Davis on the bench after he aggravated a right heel contusion, suffered in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Denver Nuggets, when he made contact with Andre Iguodala late in the first quarter.
Davis, who still managed to score 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting with 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks in 42 minutes, expressed confidence when asked about his injury outlook for Game 6.
“I’ll be fine on Sunday,” he said.
A source familiar with Davis’ injury described the bruise to ESPN as “painful” but said “he can tolerate it.”
The question is how the Lakers’ resolve will handle the Heat — winners of two of the past three games in the series following L.A.’s 2-0 start — now that they fumbled a closeout opportunity.
James, who came into Friday with a 3-0 record in closeout games in his Finals career, was on the other end of a 3-1 series in 2016, when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a historic comeback against the Golden State Warriors.
It’s now on him to prevent Miami from doing the same to his team.
“At the end of the day, you don’t predetermine anything, and you take the game as it’s going, and you play,” James said. “You play each quarter, you play each possession, and you live with the results. You don’t think about what could happen at the end of the game and things of that nature. You don’t get caught up in the aftermath.
“You have to live in the moment and prepare yourself each and every possession because if you start to wander and your mind starts to go, you make a mistake. One thing about this team that we are playing, they make you pay for every mistake. It’s the same as when I was playing against Golden State all those years: You make a mistake, they make you pay. So we have to understand that.”