October 12, 2020 | 12:53am
It’s fitting that the sight of an exhausted Jimmy Butler doubled over the railing under the basket in Game 5 was the image Miami will take from this NBA Finals. Because the Heat ran out of gas one game later, ground down 106-93 by the Lakers on Sunday night in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Playing all but a few minutes of the series without injured guard Goran Dragic — who hurt his foot in the first half of the opener and didn’t return until Sunday — the Heat were just too shorthanded. Still, don’t think for a second they’re not convinced this was only the beginning for Miami, not the end.
“We’re trending in the right direction. We’re going to learn from this, going to get better. We’re going to come back,” Butler said. “We’ll be back, that’s what we’re all saying in that locker room. We got guys that want to do it, that already want to get back in the gym and get to working at this thing. That’s what we do here.”
Miami steamrolled through the Eastern Conference with its defense, and Butler handled the offense. He was stellar in The Finals, coming into Game 6 averaging 29 points, 10.2 assists and 8.6 rebounds. After logging a marathon 47 minutes on Friday, though, he finally ran out of gas.
With Butler finding LeBron James on him, he mustered just 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 45 minutes of action.
“I didn’t win, so none of the stats matter. We don’t play for stats here. We don’t play for anything else except for the win. I didn’t do that. I didn’t do my job,” Butler said. “I’ll be better, along with everybody else. I’ll be better coming back. You sulk on this because of what could have been, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t win, and that’s what you leave this at.
“I told them that I’d win them one and I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain, so that means I got to do it next year. I told Pat [Riley], I told coach [Erik Spoelstra] I’m here to win one. I didn’t do my job, so moving forward, I got to hold up my end of the bargain.”
Miami trailed by eight after one quarter, and got outscored 36-16 in the second. An 18-2 run — including 13 unanswered points — essentially sealed the Heat’s fate.
Dragic, who was the team’s second-leading scorer in the playoffs, did make his return off the bench but logged just 18 quiet minutes. When asked about the discomfort he was going through, he asked his question whether the question dealt with the defeat or the injury.
“Which pain? Now, right now or [the foot]?” Dragic said. “It’s hard. It was really a small chance to come back, but I push it.
“It’s not easy when you make The Finals and you lose it, but try to get to one next year. Try to remember those hard moments, the feeling I’m feeling right now, and try to use that to try to get better for the next year.”