The beauty of basketball comes often from its flow and form, with offensive players moving in unison to create a good shot, the ball zipping from one side to the other until it somehow finds the open shooter, the players on both sides seemingly attached by a string.
It can be a dance and, at its best, it can be a gorgeous thing.
But sometimes it’s boiled down to a basic form, me against you, my best against your best, stop me if you can.
That may be the enduring image of the NBA Finals, now headed to a Game 6 on Sunday night.
Jimmy Butler vs. LeBron James, with a bunch of other guys on the court. Stars being stars, big shots followed by bigger shots and, as James said after Butler and the Miami Heat beat him and the Lakers on Friday, “that’s the beauty of the game.”
It was beautiful. Butler scored 35 points and had 11 assists and 12 rebounds; James scored 40 and had a chance at a game-winning assist. But Danny Green missed an open three-pointer with seven seconds left and Miami won Game 5, 111-108.
“That’s the beauty of the game, being able to compete at the highest level,” James said. “You take those opportunities and you live in the moment. You’re trying to make plays for your team and be successful on both ends, and we were both just trying to do that and trying to will our team to a victory. You know, he was able to make one more play than I was able to make (Friday) and come away with a victory.”
Friday was the second time in five games that Butler posted an NBA Finals triple double; he missed a third by one assist in another game.
No one should be at all surprised that he has risen to the occasion and not been affected by the dominant will of James, who is seeking his fourth NBA championship in his 10th trip to the Finals.
“His will to win is remarkable,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To do that in 47-plus minutes and take the challenge on the other end, this is — every young player coming into this league should study footage on Jimmy Butler — the definition of a two-way player competing on both ends, five steals, and then making those big plays down the stretch for us offensively.”
Another great thing about sports is that while fans relish the performances of Friday, they don’t mean anything much in the context of Sunday’s Game 6. Adjustments will be made, the tenor and tone of the game will be different, and the star players will have to ramp it up all over again, another difficult task to complete.
“I don’t think we ended the game the way we were supposed to,” Butler said. “We didn’t rebound when we needed to. We got lucky. Luck is a part of everything and that’s what that was. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m taking the ‘W,’ but I think going into the next one we got to play even more perfect.”
The Lakers also must play better, or at least capitalize on the opportunities they get. Despite Butler’s efforts and despite Friday’s loss, they are still ahead in the series, one win from the title.
“You come back, you look at the film, fix your mistakes and then come out in Game 6 remembering how close we were,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “If we don’t make our mistakes, we win the game. So you kind of use it as fuel, but we’re still up in the series.
“We win one; they have to win two. We have to keep that in mind, as well. It’s a tough one because we know we had this one in the bag.”