D’Angelo: LeBron, Vogel whining shows lack of respect Lakers have for Heat extending NBA Finals to Game 6
These are the mighty Los Angeles Lakers. The Showtime Lakers. The franchise of the stars. Mr. Clutch, Elgin Baylor, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron, A.D. Not to mention Jack Nicholson and every other A-lister looking for courtside seats.
Winners of 16 NBA Titles (OK, 11 considering five of those came when the franchise was in Minneapolis) and believing Friday night was supposed to be the coronation to No. 17 (or No. 12).
The Lakers even wore their “Black Mamba” City Edition jerseys to honor Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash this year, expecting to win the title in his jersey.
As for the opponent? No problem. The Miami Heat? Nice story but they stole one game. Put the Dom Perignon on ice.
Of course, that did not happen, not with Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra willing the under-manned, blue-collar Heat to a 111-108 victory in Game 5. But do not tell that to the Lakers, who believe they, not the Heat, were the more deserving team. Believe they should have popped not just that champagne, but the bubble they have been confined to for three months.
Who believed it was the officials who decided this game; not Spo’s coaching or Butler’s second triple-double of the series or Duncan Robinson’s let-it-fly mentality from beyond the arc.
“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,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
Vogel was whining about the calls on Markieff Morris and Anthony Davis in the final minutes, saying Morris had his hands on the ball and Davis had perfect verticality.
“They were given four free throws and made it an uphill battle for us. Very disappointed in that aspect of the game, but our group's fine.”
Of course, LeBron was not going to stay silent.
“A couple, you know, questionable calls that swayed their way and put Jimmy to the free-throw line,” he said.
The calls they questioned came with 47 and 17 seconds to play. The first was a foul on Morris, who blocked Butler’s shot on the play. Butler’s two free throws gave the Heat a one-point lead. The next was on Davis, who jumped into Butler's space in the lane, causing the collision. Again, Butler made both and the Heat led by one.
Until the Morris foul, the Lakers had gone to the line five more times than the Heat and finished the game taking five more 3-pointers. And if the Lakers want to point to Butler going to the line twice as many times as LeBron (12-6), James relied on his hot hand from 3-point land (6 of 9) for most of the game. He did not attack the rim consistently until the final minutes.
The NBA confirmed on its Last Two Minute report the calls were correct. To blame the officials was an insult to the Heat. It was an insult to a terrific game that, in the final three minutes, came down to a classic dual between two determined superstars, James and Butler. It was an insult to the Heat's role players — who have outplayed their Laker counterparts — and who do not know that the pressure is supposed to be too much to overcome.
“Great players are going to make great plays,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what this level of the Finals is all about.”
Once again, it was Butler being the aggressor, forcing officials to make those calls because he somehow found another gear in a game in which he played all but 48 seconds. Butler finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
“I left it all out there on the floor along with my guys and that’s how we’re going to have to play from here on out,” Butler said.
Those final three minutes, starting after the last of Robinson’s seven 3-pointers gave the Heat a 101-99 lead, were classic. Butler and LeBron (40 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists) went back and forth in a game in which the lead changed hands eight times in the final 6:20.
“That’s Jimmy,” said Robinson, who had 26 points. “He took us home. He does whatever it takes to win. He hit some shots. He made plays on both sides of the court. He willed it. It’s not always pretty, but he always finds a way.”
"If you're the best player in the world, you're supposed to be able to do that," Butler said about LeBron. "He's going to hit some tough ones. That's what really, really, really great players do. But, we ain't backing down. We ain't shying away."
And after the Davis-Butler collision sent Butler to the line with 16.8 seconds to play, it came down to one Lakers possession with the Heat season on the line. One possession in which everyone knew whose hands the ball would be in. One possession in which the Heat were determined not to let LeBron James beat them.
As LeBron started toward the basket, Robinson peeled off Danny Green to help Butler. Jae Crowder was on the right and took a swipe at the ball. Bam Adebayo came over to help. Andre Iguodala was making sure Davis was not open for the lob.
Five players strung out basically under the basket, four with at least one foot in the paint.
“At the end of the day I like those decisions,” Spoelstra said. “We had everybody in the paint. LeBron just had a bunch of those possessions in the fourth quarter where he was just getting to the basket. So, we needed to bring not only a second defender there, a third defender. Then, they cut, and of course, Danny Green is there.”
Unlike Butler, who attacked and drew the foul, LeBron made the decision to dish and found a wide-open Green, a man who has 266 postseason 3s in his career, wide open at the top of the circle. The shot never had a chance, hitting the front of the rim. The rebound went to Morris, who threw it away, along with the Lakers’ party plans ... at least for Friday.
“We got a hell of a look to win the game, to win the series,” James said. “Didn't go down. And then we got the offensive rebound, we turned the ball over. We've just got to be better in Game 6 and close the series.”
Heat vs. Lakers, 7:30 p.m., ABC