LeBron James flexed his mighty muscles high above his Lakers black jersey, looking too strong to stop.
He had just scored while being fouled, finishing a three-point play that gave Los Angeles a one-point lead with 1 minute, 34 seconds remaining. When the Lakers fell behind again, he put back his missed shot to lift them right back on top with 58 seconds to go.
James was trying to do everything it took to knock out the Miami Heat and deliver the Lakers a championship, but he needed one more chance.
He couldn’t get it.
James finished with 40 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, but had to give up the ball and couldn’t get it back on the Lakers’ possession in the final seconds of a 111-108 loss on Friday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
The Lakers took their final timeout after Jimmy Butler’s free throws gave the Heat a 107-106 lead with 16 seconds to play. Miami forced James to give up the ball and Danny Green was short on a 3-pointer.
“We got a hell of a look to win the game, to win the series,” James said. “Didn’t go down.”
Markieff Morris got the rebound and tried to throw the ball inside to Anthony Davis, but he misfired it out of bounds while James stood helplessly near the right sideline.
If he got the ball back, perhaps he would have scored. A few minutes later, he might’ve had the Larry O’Brien Trophy and then an NBA Finals MVP trophy in his hands, just as he did in 2012, 2013 and 2016.
James had never missed a chance to close out an NBA Finals series after getting to three wins. He was determined to finish this one off and send everyone home after three months in the bubble. He made six 3-pointers – some so deep they looked closer to midcourt than the basket – and kept bringing the Lakers back every time they fell far behind.
Los Angeles was down 11 points 90 seconds into the fourth quarter when James made one of those 3-pointers to ignite a 17-3 surge that provided a 99-96 lead. But Butler kept making big plays from the Heat and he pulled out the winning finish that James sought.
James had a final heave after Tyler Herro’s free throws with 1.6 seconds left, but it was from near midcourt and wasn’t close.
The Lakers walked off the floor losers for the first time in their Black Mamba jerseys, co-designed and now worn in honor of Kobe Bryant. They will have to wait until Sunday to get another chance at their first title in a decade.
It’s no sure thing now. Anthony Davis was hobbling at times with a foot injury. The bench that had been so good couldn’t provide the boost James needed and the Lakers were helpless to stop Butler for the second time in the past three games.
There’s been only one 3-1 lead overcome in the NBA Finals, and James was the catalyst that time with Cleveland in 2016.
Now he has two more chances to prevent it, starting Sunday.
“We’ve just got to be better in Game 6 and close the series,” James said.
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