NBA Finals Game 6: LeBron James and the Lakers aim to clinch a 17th title with a win over the Heat

For the second time this weekend, the Larry O’Brien trophy is courtside for another NBA Finals game between the Lakers and Heat, only unlike Friday, when LeBron James‘s 40-point effort wasn’t quite enough to put away Jimmy Butler & Co., the momentum suddenly belongs to Miami. 

Now, trailing 3-2, the Heat are on the upswing in a series that has adopted a more physical style that has become associated with other teams assembled by Miami president and former Lakers coach Pat Riley. 

For instance, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis and Miami’s Jae Crowder both ended up on the floor midway through the third quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. As Davis scrambled to get back to his feet, his right elbow swung out toward Crowder’s face.

Crowder wasn’t fazed.

Jimmy Butler (far left, right) had a 35-point triple-double in Game 5 and came up with a clutch block on LeBron James

LeBron James (right) had 40 points in Game 5, but even his heroics weren’t enough to finish off the Miami Heat 

The moment epitomized how Friday went: The Los Angeles Lakers, even when they got within a few seconds of winning a championship, couldn’t knock out the Miami Heat. LeBron James was brilliant for the Lakers with 40 points, Jimmy Butler was as brilliant if not more so for the Heat with a 35-point triple double, and Miami survived to send the title series to Game 6 on Sunday.

‘We ain’t backing down,’ Butler said. ‘We ain’t shying away.’

Everything still favors the Lakers. They lead the series 3-2. James hasn’t been part of losing two potential close-out games in the same series since 2006, his first postseason year. The Heat still don’t have starting point guard Goran Dragic because of a foot injury, a torn left plantar fascia.

They are most undeterred.

‘Everybody counted us out since the beginning of the playoffs,’ Heat rookie guard Tyler Herro said. ‘We don’t really care what people have to say.’ 

REVEALED: LAKERS’ DANNY GREEN FACED DEATH THREATS AFTER MISSING POTENTIAL GAME WINNER

Lakers guard Danny Green revealed Sunday that he and his fiancee received death threats after he missed a shot that could have returned the NBA title to Los Angeles.

‘It’s just a basketball game at the end of the day and they’re taking out their emotions and they need someone to blame. It came down to the last play and of course I’m the easy target,’ said Green, an 11-year NBA veteran who has won championships with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors.

Green had an open look from 25 feet in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, but his shot with 7.1 seconds left fell short. The Miami Heat won 111-108, and the Lakers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Sunday night’s Game 6.

Danny Green (far left) had an open look from 25 feet in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, but his shot with 7.1 seconds left fell short. The Miami Heat won 111-108, and the Lakers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Sunday night’s Game 6

Danny Green (left) said his fiancee, Blair Bashen (right), alerted him to the threats made via social media

He said his fiancee, Blair Bashen, alerted him to the threats made via social media.

‘Didn’t faze me, didn’t care, just ignore it,’ Green said. ‘Those people’s opinions don’t matter to me. Only the people in the locker room and on this roster are the things that are relevant and that matter to me. If they’re still confident and encouraged and still believe in me and believe in us, that’s all that matters to me.’

Green scored eight points in 24 minutes on Friday night. On the season, he averaged 41.6 percent from 3-point range.

‘Basketball wise, it was a good look.’ Green said. ‘I had more time than I realized. I should’ve taken more time. I probably rushed it a little bit. I was a little off balance. But we got a good look. We had a second opportunity. Trying to come out and play back again. I’ll do anything to get that shot back, trust me. You’re going to make some. You’re going to miss some. It’s part of the game. I’ve been in that situation plenty of times. I’ve made some. I’ve missed some. Unfortunate it was for us to close out the series, that would’ve been great to win it.

‘But any person that plays sports and any person that plays basketball knows that it doesn’t come down to that last play. It’s never on one play.’ 

(Source: Reuters

Miami kept finding ways in Game 5 to keep the series – and its season – alive, then caught a break in the final seconds when the Lakers’ Danny Green missed a wide-open 3 that could have delivered the NBA title and Markieff Morris threw the ball away after the offensive rebound.

The Heat have talked since the NBA Finals started about a need to play almost perfect basketball against the Lakers. And now James, who has spoken with great respect for his former franchise throughout the series, indicated that the Lakers might be feeling a similar way.

NBA 2019-2020 SEASON TIMELINE 

The NBA is capping off what has been the most turbulent campaign in league history. Here is a brief synopsis of the last 12 months: 

  • October 4, 2019 – Rockets general manager sparks an international controversy by tweeting his support for anti-Chinese government protestors in Hong Kong. The NBA, which makes an estimated $4billion annually in China, is taken off state TV for one year. Morey apologizes for the uproar over the tweet, but is not punished by the NBA
  • January 1, 2020 – Former commissioner David Stern passes away at 77 following a brain hemorrhage. Stern is credited with building the NBA’s popularity in China 
  • January 26, 2020 – Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 12-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others are killed in a helicopter crash along the California coast
  • March 11, 2020 – The NBA becomes the first American pro sports league to suspend its season due to the coronavirus pandemic after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tests positive 
  • July 31, 2020 – The season resumes inside the league’s Disney World bubble, where players, media, coaches, and other staff are isolated from the pandemic. Following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25, the league and players’ union agreed to approve social justice messaging on jerseys, such as ‘Equality’ and ‘Vote’. The jerseys are first worn inside the bubble, where many players draw criticism for kneeling in protest of racism during the national anthem
  • August 26, 2020 – The Milwaukee Bucks boycott a game in protest of the Kenosha, Wisconsin police shooting of Jacob Blake. The season is suspended for a second time before restarting three days later
  • October 9, 2020 – The NBA returns to Chinese state television  

‘One thing about this team that we are playing, they make you pay for every mistake,’ James said after Game 5. ‘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.’

James is about to set the record for NBA playoff game appearances. He’s already the leading scorer in playoff history. Has the most wins. The most steals. Most shot attempts. Most free throws taken.

Here’s a record he didn’t want.

For as great as he is, James still needs help. Nobody has had more 40-point NBA Finals games in a loss than he has – the record-setting fifth entry on that list coming Friday in Miami’s 111-108 win. In fact, James’ last three 40-point finals efforts, two against the Warriors in 2017 and 2018 and now the one against Miami in Game 5, all ended up as losses.

‘He steps up in big moments,’ Lakers guard Alex Caruso said. ‘It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t make one more play for him either defensively or offensively to help him out, because he was giving it his all.’

His all wasn’t enough.

The Lakers have a clear big two in James and Davis, who combined for 68 points. The Lakers had been 14-1 when they each scored 28 or more in the same game; 5-0 when they combined for at least 68 points. The Heat staved them off by playing seven players and getting balance; Butler had a 35-point triple-double to lead the way, five of the other six scored in double figures led by Duncan Robinson’s 26.

For his four years in Miami, James helped make the Heat better.

He’s doing the same now – with the Heat knowing it’ll take everything to claim this championship.

‘Well, we have a goal: We’re fighting for a title,’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘That’s what it’s going to require and our guys have an understanding. Through the first two games of this series we realized, `All right, this is a different level, we’re going to have to get to a higher level.’ Our guys are extremely competitive, so this level of play that the Lakers have brought is bringing out something different.’

The Lakers had a three-point lead midway through the final quarter of Game 5 and let it get away. They led by one after a basket by Davis with 21.8 seconds left and were one stop from winning the title; Davis ended up fouling Butler, a call the Lakers said shouldn’t have been made. The NBA disagreed Saturday, saying Butler was fouled on the play.

‘We’re motivated to win Game 6 and they are motivated to win Game 6,’ Davis said. ‘It’s not going to be easy, but we expect to win.’

While the two teams are no strangers to the spotlight, the current stage is a major departure from any previous trips to the Finals, which are traditionally played at the beginning of June in front of a partisan, sold-out arena of screaming fans.

These Finals, played in October following a four-month pandemic hiatus, are taking place in a near-empty arena inside the league’s COVID-resistant bubble at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports campus near Orlando.

Instead of fans, the two teams were surrounded by a small crowd of friends and family, who remained masked and socially distanced to adhere to strict league guidelines that appear to have held up amid the surrounding pandemic. Unlike the NFL and Major League Baseball, leagues that went without bubbles and subsequently were forced to postpone several games due to infections, the NBA has remained more or less COVID-free in Florida.

Players have social justice messages emblazoned on their jerseys in response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25. Nearly all the Heat and Lakers knelt in protest of racism during the national anthem before Friday’s game, as most teams have throughout the NBA’s stay at Disney.

The black jerseys worn by the Lakers on Friday aren’t new, but the meaning behind them is.

Bryant, who won five titles as a Laker, died in a helicopter crash in January alongside his 12-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. The uniforms, dubbed the ‘Black Mamba’ jerseys after Bryant’s nickname, were designed by the franchise icon years earlier and have proven to be a good luck charm for the Lakers during the 2020 postseason.

Taken together, these new wrinkles are a good illustration of what the NBA has endured in what can only be described as the most turbulent season in league history.

NBA IS BACK IN CHINA AFTER GETTING BANNED A YEAR BY BEIJING WHEN ROCKETS GM DARYL MOREY VOICED SUPPORT FOR PROTESTORS IN HONG KONG

The NBA is returning to Chinese state television after a one-year absence.

CCTV announced Friday that it would air Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat – the first time that the league would appear on the network since the rift that started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

State television made an on-air announcement that the game would be broadcast; the network’s web site had a preview of the game, including a photo of the Lakers’ LeBron James and Miami’s Jimmy Butler.

‘In the Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival that just passed, the NBA expressed holiday blessings to Chinese fans,’ the China Media Group, essentially the operator of CCTV, said in a statement. ‘We have also noticed the goodwill continuously expressed by the NBA for some time. Especially since the beginning of this year, the NBA has made active efforts in supporting the Chinese people in fighting against the novel coronavirus epidemic.’

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey apologized for the tweet he swiftly deleted  that included an image of the activists’ rally cry: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong’ 

CCTV quickly halted its relationship with the NBA after Morey’s tweet, even though the post was quickly deleted. Given the timing, it appears the suspension of NBA coverage by that network was designed to last one year; CCTV announced on Oct. 8, 2019, that it was beginning an immediate investigation into its relationship with the NBA, stemming from the network being ‘strongly dissatisfied’ over the league’s decision to not sanction Morey.

The NBA did not have an immediate comment to CCTV’s decision. 

NBA games have been available to Chinese fans on the streaming service Tencent, another of the league’s broadcast partners. But the relationship between the league and China could be best categorized as frosty since the tweet, with only some slight hints of reconciliation.

NBA legend and Chinese Basketball Association President Yao Ming did come to the U.S. to attend the memorial service for commissioner emeritus David Stern in January, a move viewed by some as one that showed there was hope for the league and China to mend fences. More hope came in February, when the NBA sent more than $1 million in medical supplies to China to assist coronavirus relief efforts there. The Chinese publicly thanked the NBA for that gesture.

Employees watch a live broadcast of Game 5 of the NBA Finals at an NBA store in Beijing, Saturday, Ocober 10, 2020. The NBA is returning to Chinese state television after a one-year absence. CCTV announced Friday that it would air Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat – the first time that the league would appear on the network since the rift that started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey (left) apologized for the now-deleted tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests. The league didn’t apologize for Morey’s tweet, but commissioner Adam Silver (right) was criticized for his alleged kowtowing to China, a $4 billion market for the NBA

But the fallout after the tweet last year was quick and massive. Sponsors – following CCTV’s lead – pulled their backing of the NBA China Games between the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets; the preseason games were played, though no news conferences were held and most events surrounding the games in the basketball-mad nation were canceled as well.

At All-Star weekend this year, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said it was possible the league could lose as much as $400 million in revenue this year because of the strained relationship with the Chinese.

And that estimate preceded the costly shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, another massive financial blow that forced the league to cancel about 15 percent of its remaining regular-season games. The league wound up salvaging the season by moving into a bubble at Walt Disney World, yet another big expense for games that took place without fans present – meaning no ticket, concession or souvenir revenue.

(Source: AP)

Demonstrators set a LeBron James jersey on fire during a rally at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong on October 15, 2019. CCTV has not shown an NBA game since last October 

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