They just keep on using LeBron James. When will they use him up?

The answer is still forthcoming since James’ bid to become basketball’s Mr. October is still lying in a 40-point puddle at Disney World.

Except for the final score – Miami 111, Lakers 108 – the Lakers had everything in position Friday night. James had been his usual facilitating self as they grabbed a 3-1 NBA Finals lead, but now the curtains would part and James would perform the encore that the basketball world had come to expect. When Tony Bennett leaves his heart in San Francisco, everybody applauds and goes home. Now the Lakers have to take their packed bags back to the room and wait two more days, at least, for the rapture.

Parenthetically, this might have been the most thrilling NBA Finals game since James and Kyrie Irving raided the Warriors’ castle and took the 2016 championship.

James and Jimmy Butler stacked the furniture against the walls and turned Game 5 into Fight Club. James unpacked his 3-point game and kept the Lakers engaged, and with 2:50 left he piled up seven consecutive points, including a putback basket off his own miss.

When Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s errant 3-pointer landed in Anthony Davis’ hands and then into the hoop, the Lakers led by one point. Miami would have to find a bucket against the best defense in The Bubble just to survive.

But Butler took the ball to the hoop and got fouled by Davis, and his two foul shots then put the burden back on James. As James came off a screen, he drove and was double-teamed, and, to the dismay of his critics, he did what he always has done. He played basketball. He found an open man instead of trying to fight the numbers.

“He was going to take on the whole team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “A third man came at him. He made the right play.”

Unfortunately for the Lakers, it wasn’t the right man. Danny Green’s shooting has made for a lucrative career, with two championship rings. That stroke has been hard to find in Florida, and he missed this one, and Markieff Morris lost the rebound out of bounds. Miami rookie Tyler Herro, who has veins in his ice water, hit the two foul shots that wrapped it up.

“We had a hell of a look,” James said. “But we just needed one more stop defensively. At the end, we probably had more time than we thought, and I wish I’d thrown a better pass.

“This team we’re playing, they make you pay for every mistake. It’s like playing Golden State all those years.”

Miami was buoyed by a strange third quarter in which it converted a six-point play and two fours. But in the world that we know, James doesn’t lose when he scores 40, hits 15 of 21 shots, including six of nine 3-point attempts, and wraps it up with 13 rebounds and seven assists.

He also played 41:51 and Davis played 42:13. They scored 68 of the 108 points. Caldwell-Pope showed up as usual, but the Lakers needed one more man to make a breakthrough, and it was odd that they didn’t find one because Vogel was playing nine guys. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra mothballed Kelly Olynyk, who had helped Butler win Game 3, and played only seven.

“We lost their shooters too much,” Lakers guard Alex Caruso said. “And we need to do a better job of competing. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t make one more play offensively or defensively to help LeBron out.”

The King was particularly merciless after he was called for charging into Duncan Robinson, the man from Maine who began his college career at Williams College and looks far more like James’ accountant than his competitor. Vogel challenged the call and came up empty. At the time Miami led 93-85.

James replied with a frenzy of defense and speed. He found Green and Caldwell-Pope on the run, and Davis converted a three-point play. At the end of the 15-3 run the Lakers led by one, and their plane to L.A. had one tire off the runway.

But with 3:15 left, the Lakers made the lethal mistake of letting Robinson get his feet aligned at the 3-point line, and the bomb tied it 101-101.

Davis dragged a reinjured heel around the court all night. Butler talked hopefully of getting Goran Dragic back, although that’s a long shot. The Lakers lead, 3-2, with no change of venue and no place to hide. It all depends on a 35-year-old classic, with a tank that hasn’t gone dry yet.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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