It was like 2 majestic prizefighters duking it out in the center of the bloodied ring. The Heat is bruised and battered, having absorbed tremendous punishment from its oversized foe in 3 of the first 4 rounds of this 7-round classic slugfest. After losing the last-minute flurry in Round 4, the Heat stood eyeball-to-eyeball with the Lakers once again in the dying seconds of Round 5. The round is almost even, with both fighters exchanging wicked shots. Both fighters look extremely exhausted, sweating profusely, and gasping for precious oxygen. Both fighters maneuvering, exploiting, delivering haymakers while avoiding those painful killer counters, aiming to score in the precious last few seconds with one more clean shot.
This time, it was the Lakers who blinked. This time, it was the Heat who nicked the Lakers in the chin, getting the nod from the cage gods. In this abbreviated 5th of a 7-rounder NBA heavyweight championship match of the year, the Heat would outlast the Lakers 111-108. To live to fight another round.
The Heat have been battling heroically minus their chief ground commander, Goran Dragic; felled by a freak left foot injury in Game 1. They have further been disadvantaged by a neck strain to their chief big-man, Bam Adebayo; making him perform less than 100%. Thus, they have had to rely heavily on ironman Jimmy Butler, who also suffered a scary twisted ankle in the very first salvo of this championship series. Despite all these, despite the clear disadvantage in skill and size and what-else-have-you; the Heat are still banging away, doing ‘whatever it takes’ to stay in the fight.
It is truly a wonder, and an exciting thought for those who love the underdog. The Miami Heat – woefully undersized, pitifully inexperienced, and unfortunately saddled by injuries – are staying alive. Not only that, they are learning on the fly, getting more and more comfortable with the pressure, and building more and more confidence in themselves. They no longer are surprised they have gone this far, they know in their hearts they deserve to be there. Shades of the Denver Nuggets when they blew away the LA Clippers from a 1-3 deficit.
Jimmy Butler summed it all up during his postgame interview. “We live for this moment. We have been playing together, we are so together… That’s why we win, because everybody wants everybody to be successful. We not scared of nobody.” This is the Heat’s bold attitude that is giving the Lakers fits with just a game needed to wrap everything up.
Lebron and AD tried their darndest to take the win with the black Kobe jerseys that were supposed to make them unbeatable. But the Heat would have none of that. Butler simply refused to bow down to LA’s dynamic duo. Black jerseys, white jerseys, yellow jerseys, whatever; Butler and his team didn’t give a hoot.
So the series moves to Round 6. And the emboldened Heat are liking their chances. Three things make them believe they are capable of stealing this series: 1) AD’s fragile feet (slightly injured previously); 2) they have more balanced scoring, which keeps the Lakers guessing from whom the points will be coming from; and 3) their morale is sky-high, and they believe they are the more united team in this duel. These guys have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Which puts the pressure on the heavily-favored Lakers.
That said, expect the Lakers and the Heat to both leave everything on the table in this next game. The Lakers dread the thought of the Heat tying them 3-3, as this will give the Heat even far more confidence in a Game 7 winner-take-all. On the other hand, the Heat can do nothing else but win, with the Lakers just 1 game away from closing the series. For the Heat, it is simply: win… or die.
Lakers vs Heat, who you got?
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of the LA Times. Other pics courtesy of: NY Times, Hot Hot Hoops, NJ.com, Tide 100.9 FM, Draft Kings Nation, Action Network, ABC Action, Bismarck Tribune and The Guardian.