LeBron James is basketball's ultimate test and the Miami Heat will have to be "near perfect" to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, admits Jimmy Butler.

The Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 125-113 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday to clinch a 4-2 series triumph.

It marks the first time Miami will contest the NBA Finals since making the last of four in a row in 2014, which marked the James' final season as a Heat player.

Butler is under no illusions as to the size of the task the team faces but insists the Heat still have another level to reach.

"The main key, and it's been like this for a very long time, if you want to win, you're going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team," said Butler, who had 22 points and eight assists. 

"At the end of the day, that's what it normally comes down to. That's what we got to focus in on. 

"Obviously you can't focus in on him because he has so many really good players around him, but you're going to get the same test over and over again until you pass, and that test is LeBron James.

"I said it time and time again. I believe in our group. I know that we can still win four more. We're not satisfied. We're not complacent. 

"We know we've got a really good team to go up against. We can enjoy it for the night. We said this from the beginning of the year."

Asked how Miami have fought their way past teams who were seeded higher in the East, Butler replied: "Together. That's how we were able to do it. I don't look at five-seed or one-seed. 

"It's all about who is playing the best basketball at the right time.

"I feel like we're still yet to play our absolute best basketball, but along the way, we realise what we have to do moving forward.

"So we have to be near perfect to beat the Lakers. We're capable of it. But we're not worried about no five-seed or one-seed. We're worried about us and being the best Miami Heat team that we can be."

Bam Adebayo was a talisman for the Heat, putting up 32 points, 14 rebounds and five assists to dominate the Celtics just a couple of days on from taking the blame for Miami's loss in Game 5.

"I let my team-mates down again in Game 5. You know, I just had to realign myself and who I really want to become," he said. "I showed that tonight. You said you wanted to see me be a scorer in the fourth, well, there you go.

"It's just one of those things, you know, coaches they want me to be better and they want me to do great things. That's the first time I got plays, back-to-back, back-to-back. 

"Being in that moment and embracing it and taking over is a great thing for me. But at the end of the day, we got four more. Our business isn't done yet."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens conceded his team did not get a good enough grip on Adebayo.

"I thought today after we had the lead, Adebayo, and credit all of them, but Adebayo deciding he's just going to drive the ball put us in a real bind with the shooters around him," he said. 

"And their physicality is something that I'm not sure that we probably talked about enough. 

"They're strong, they're physical, they're tough and, him in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn't score, his presence was so impactful and it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him."

The Miami Heat's fairytale season continues after setting up an NBA Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers at the expense of the Boston Celtics.

Bam Adebayo led the way as the Heat topped the Celtics 125-113 to seal a 4-2 series victory in the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday.

The Heat had not reached the Finals since losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 showpiece, while LeBron James was still in Miami.

Miami were not expected to challenge for the championship after missing the playoffs last season, having finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, but Jimmy Butler's arrival has helped transform the Heat.

Butler put up 22 points, but it was Adebayo who ignited the Heat with a season-high 32 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Tyler Herro added 19 points off the bench, while veteran Andre Iguodala dazzled – going five for five from the field and four for four from three-point range for 15 points as the Heat advanced to the Finals for the sixth time.

The Celtics bowed out, despite Jaylen Brown's 26 points and Jayson Tatum's double-double of 24 points and career-high 11 assists.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart also had 20 points apiece for Boston.

 

Heat face Lakers

The NBA Finals will get underway on Wednesday. The top-seeded Lakers will be looking to claim their first championship since 2010.

LeBron James says his 10th appearance in the NBA Finals "don't mean s***" unless he leads the Los Angeles Lakers to championship glory.

James scored 38 points and tallied 16 rebounds and 10 assists as the Lakers saw off the Denver Nuggets 117-107 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to clinch the series.

The four-time MVP is attempting to win his fourth NBA title, having won two with the Miami Heat and another with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Having tasted the disappointment of Finals defeat six times in his career, James knows the conference title will have little value if the Lakers fail to claim a first NBA crown since 2010.

"Right now, it don't mean s*** unless I get it done," James said to ESPN of reaching the Finals for the 10th time. "I got to get it done.

"We understand we have bigger fish to fry. We understand there's a bigger goal, but we can't take this for granted because this doesn't happen every year to anybody."

James and the Lakers have had to deal with extremely trying circumstances in his second season with the team.

The NBA world was shaken by the tragic death of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in January before the campaign was stopped for four and a half months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I've been fuelled all year," James added. "All year. Even during the shutdown. I was still training."

James has the chance to become the first player to win Finals MVP with three different franchises having claimed the award with the Heat in 2012 and 2013 and the Cavs in 2016.

"I just want to travel my own journey, because it is my journey. I've appreciated everything that's happened along the way. I mean, throughout -- the ups, the downs, the ups on the court, the downs on the court, the wins and losses," said James.

"But I've been able to, I guess as Frank Sinatra would say, 'I did it my way.'"

LeBron James insisted the "job is not done" after guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals for the first time in 10 years.

James posted a triple-double as the top-seeded Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 117-107 on Saturday to seal a 4-1 series victory in the Western Conference finals.

The three-time NBA champion had 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Lakers back to the Finals, having not featured in the showpiece since winning their last title in 2010.

But as James prepares for his 10th Finals appearance, after missing the playoffs in his first season with the Lakers, the 35-year-old superstar was grounded post-game in Orlando, Florida.

"The job is not done," said James, whose Lakers will face either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics. "But it's great to appreciate the moments throughout the course of a journey.

"I am extremely proud to be a part of this franchise getting back to where it belongs, playing and competing for championships. This is what I came here for."

It was James' 27th career playoff triple-double as the four-time MVP eyes a fourth championship ring.

All-Star team-mate Anthony Davis contributed 27 points for the Lakers, who will make their 32nd Finals appearance.

"In a closeout game, I am just as desperate as the team that we are trying to closeout. I don't want to play another game," James said.

"I am not undefeated in closeout games, but if we have the chance to win I don't want to play another game."

James then recalled the legacy of Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers to their most recent championship a decade ago.

Bryant – the victim of a tragic helicopter crash in January – was crowned MVP as the Lakers beat the Celtics in the 2010 Finals and the NBA legend continues to inspire James and others.

"Every time you put on purple and gold, you think about his legacy, you think about him and what he meant to this franchise for 20-plus years and what he stood for both on the floor and off the floor," James added.

"What he demanded out of his team-mates, what he demanded out of himself. We have some similarities in that sense.

"Our games are different. But as far as our mindset and our drive to want to be the best, and our drive to not lose ... just that drive to always want to be victorious. It stops you from sleeping."

The Los Angeles Lakers advanced to their first NBA Finals in a decade after LeBron James' triple-double secured a series victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Not since winning their last championship in 2010 had storied franchise the Lakers reached the NBA showpiece.

But James helped end that drought as the top-seeded Lakers topped the Nuggets 117-107 on Saturday to seal a 4-1 series victory in the Western Conference finals.

James posted 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Lakers at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, where he will contest his 10th NBA Finals – the fourth player in history to do so.

It was James' 27th career playoff triple-double as the 35-year-old eyes a fourth championship ring, with the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics awaiting in the Finals.

All-Star team-mate Anthony Davis contributed 27 points for the Lakers, who will make their 32nd Finals appearance.

The third-seeded Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason en route to the Conference finals.

But they were unable to produce another comeback, despite 20 points apiece from Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant.

Nuggets star Jamal Murray was limited to just 19 points as the Nuggets bowed out of the Orlando bubble.

 

Celtics face Heat

Can the Celtics level the series or will the Heat book their spot in the Finals? The two teams will meet in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday, with the Heat leading 3-2.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Miami Heat's Game 5 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Friday, though Jimmy Butler did not agree with his assessment.

The Heat failed to close out the Eastern Conference finals as they blew a 12-point lead to lose 121-108, meaning their series advantage was cut to 3-2 ahead of Game 6 on Sunday.

Adebayo, who played with a sleeve on his left arm after supposedly suffering an injury late in Game 4, contributed 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists but felt he lacked intensity on the defensive end.

"I played like s***. Bottom line. I put that game on me. It's not my team-mates' fault, it's not my coaches' fault, it's me. I missed too many shots I should have made. Put that one on me," said Adebayo.

"I wasn't being the defensive anchor that I should have been. I don't think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today.

"I got to be better. That's the bottom line. That's it. There's no excuses to this ... this game is on me. I played terrible and that can't happen."

Butler insisted the defeat was "on everybody" and said he would attempt to lift Adebayo's spirits ahead of Game 6. 

"It's not [on Adebayo]. It's on everybody. He does so much for us that it could feel like that at times, but it's definitely not on him. It's on us as a whole," said Butler. 

"We all understand that because nobody was playing the way we're supposed to play, the way we have to play in order for us to win. Nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it, I love him for it. But he can't do it by himself – we've got to be there with him. 

"I will [speak to him] but I think he knows you can't get stuck on this game now. We learn from it, it's something of the past. But we're going to need him to be who he is on Sunday. 

"We need everybody to be that way. We're gonna watch film, we're gonna learn from it, not saying we already don't know what went wrong, but we'll be ready to go. We will fix it." 

Klay Thompson took part in his first full practice with the Golden State Warriors since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last year. 

Five-time All-Star Thompson underwent surgery last year after going down with the injury in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. 

He joined the Warriors minicamp on Friday and trained with the rest of the team for the first time, 470 days after suffering the ACL damage. 

"It was great to have him out on the floor, in the locker room," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. 

"Just his presence alone gave us a jolt of energy and excitement. Practice went well. This is the first practice coming off an ACL injury and a year-and-a-half absence, so I didn't expect him to be in top shape, in top form, and he was not, but he moved well and it's a good first step. 

"We didn't scrimmage. We haven't had a five-on-five scrimmage yet. We're trying to ease into it because of the long lay-off. But Klay got a lot of good work in and I think he was able to gauge kind of where he is right now and what needs to do going forward." 

With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green excused from the camp – branded 'the Dubble' – for family reasons, Kerr hopes Thompson will be ready to scrimmage with his team-mates when the time comes. 

"It kind of depends how he reacts and what Rick [Celebrini, the Warriors' director of sports medicine and performance] says and what Klay says. Just kind of have to take it step by step. So we'll kind of see where he is tomorrow [Saturday] and make a decision accordingly." 

Thompson signed a five-year, $190million extension with the Warriors last offseason but missed the entire 2019-20 campaign as Golden State registered a league-worst 15-50 record

Brad Stevens felt improved defense helped the Boston Celtics turn Game 5 against the Miami Heat to stay alive in the NBA playoffs.

The Celtics rallied for a 121-108 victory over Miami on Friday to cut the Heat's Eastern Conference finals lead to 3-2.

But Boston struggled early, trailing by 12 points, before a 41-25 third quarter helped them turn the game.

Celtics head coach Stevens said improvement defensively was key for Boston.

"I just thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and our offense followed suit," he told a news conference.

"But they're very hard. It's easy for me to sit up and say to be at our very best and get stops on every possession.

"This is a heck of an offensive team, a heck of a well-coached team and hard to guard."

Celtics star Jayson Tatum scored 17 of his 31 points in the third quarter, with Boston going on a 20-3 run.

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra lamented his side's inability to slow the Celtics down.

"We missed some open shots to start the quarter and then those turned into run-outs that got them going, those easy ones. This is a team that has great offensive firepower," he said.

"When they see the ball go in the basket they started to get more aggressive and putting a ton of pressure on us in the paint, much like they did in Game 3 and we weren't able to shut that off, and they just carried that through."

Game 6 is on Sunday.

The Boston Celtics stayed alive in the NBA playoffs with a 121-108 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Jayson Tatum (31 points and 10 rebounds) lifted the Celtics at the Walt Disney World Resort on Friday as they reduced Miami's series lead to 3-2.

The win came after Miami made a better start, at one stage leading by as many as 12 points.

Tatum scored 17 third-quarter points as the Celtics rallied on their way to a victory that kept them alive in the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown (28 points) also starred, while Kemba Walker (15 points) and Daniel Theis (15 points and 13 rebounds) were also key contributors.

Duncan Robinson (20 points) had put Miami in position in the first half before the Celtics' fightback.

Jimmy Butler finished with 17 points, while Goran Dragic had 23 before fouling out.

Coming off his Game 4 heroics, rookie Tyler Herro managed just 14 points.

Game 6 of the series is on Sunday.

 

Nuggets face Lakers

Leading the Western Conference finals 3-1, the Los Angeles Lakers are a win away from a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010 ahead of facing the Denver Nuggets again on Saturday.

LeBron James took on the responsibility of guarding Jamal Murray down the stretch because he knew it was "winning time" for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4. 

With the Lakers holding a four-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the final quarter, and Murray on 28 points on 12-for-17 shooting, James switched onto the Denver Nuggets guard. 

Murray was held to 0-for-2 shooting by the four-time NBA MVP, with his four points in the last five minutes coming from the free throw line. 

The Lakers consequently closed out a 114-108 victory to move 3-1 up in the Western Conference Finals. 

Asked why he put himself on Murray, James said: "I knew it was winning time, and Jamal had it going. The kid is special. He has an array of shots. Triple threat from the three, mid-range and also in the paint. 

"For me, it's just trusting my defensive keys. Trusting my study of film. Trusting personnel. And living with the results. I told my team-mates that I had him and everyone else can kind of stay at bay and stay home. 

"I was able to get a couple stops and we were able to rebound the basketball, which is the most important thing." 

James is averaging 34.4 minutes in the playoffs, which is the fewest of his career – his previous low was 38.2 with the Miami Heat in 2013-14. 

The 17-year veteran denied that having less time on court helped him stay fresh to guard Murray in the closing stages. 

"I don't reserve any energy. I'm on the floor, I give it all I've got. If I need a break, I ask for a break. Coach has done a good job of getting me out throughout the course of the game," said James. 

"I don't look at it as a reserve tank. I've got pretty good energy when I'm on the floor all the time. It's winning time and I don't have a chance or time to be feeling tired. 

"I'm tired now. That's when I'm tired, when it's zeros on the clock. That's when I'm tired. I'm not tired during the game."

Murray appreciated the respect the Lakers afforded him but felt the Nuggets, who have come back from 3-1 deficits to advance in the past two rounds, still should have found a way to win. 

He said: "I mean, they switched AD [Anthony Davis] on me to be on him, too. 

"Obviously, with LeBron I do the same stuff I do when I see [Alex] Caruso, when I see [Rajon] Rondo and KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], and Kawhi [Leonard], Paul George and Pat Bev [Patrick Beverley]. 

"I mean, I do the same thing. Appreciate the respect, but we've got to win the game."

Anthony Davis provided a positive assessment over the ankle injury he suffered in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, declaring: "I'll be fine."

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 114-108 triumph over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, putting them 3-1 up in the best-of-seven series and on the brink of a place in the NBA Finals.

Despite the setback, the 27-year-old still led the Lakers in terms of scoring, contributing 34 points as he played 41 minutes.

Game 5 takes place on Saturday, with Davis confident of being fit for action as Los Angeles aim to close out the Nuggets and progress to the NBA Finals.

"Ankle feels fine," the seven-time All-Star told the media. "Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don't want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play.

"Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I'll be fine."

While the Lakers are clearly firmly in control, they will be wary of allowing the Nuggets to climb off the canvas following their heroics in the previous two rounds.

Denver battled back from 3-1 deficits to see off the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, leading Davis to speak out about the dangers of taking anything for granted.

"You know, like I said last game, we've got to put them away," he said. 

"They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, we just have to make sure we counter everything they do."

The Lakers have not reached the NBA Finals since 2010, which was also the last time they were crowned champions.

The Los Angeles Lakers are on the cusp of the NBA Finals after holding off Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets 114-108 in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

LeBron James and fellow All-Star Anthony Davis led the top-seeded Lakers, who moved 3-1 ahead in the NBA playoffs at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday.

James put up 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a performance just shy of a triple-double, while Davis had a game-high 34 points.

There was a worrying moment in the fourth quarter when Davis rolled around in pain after landing on his ankle, but he continued.

Murray dazzled once again in Orlando, Florida, where the Nuggets star posted 32 points and eight rebounds – including a memorable Michael Jordan-esque drive to the basket.

But the Nuggets – who became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason en route to the Conference finals – find themselves in a familiar position, down 3-1.

The Lakers' dominance off the boards proved decisive as the Nuggets failed to make a field goal during the last three minutes, 28 seconds – missing their final five attempts.

Now, the Lakers are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since winning their last championship in 2010.

Lakers veteran Dwight Howard finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was limited to just 16 points.

 

Heat face Celtics

The Miami Heat can book their spot in the NBA Finals with victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday.

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he did not have to think about signing a new deal as the NBA Coach of the Year heads into another uncertain offseason.

Nurse agreed a "multi-year" contract extension earlier this month after guiding the Raptors to their first championship in 2018-19, though he was unable to repeat the feat this season.

The Raptors lost to Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Making his first public comments since re-signing and seeing the Raptors' title defence come to an end, Nurse told reporters on Thursday: "I don't know if it's a load off my mind or anything.

"Obviously, man, I love being here and love the job, and there's nothing not to love, man. I think it was just pretty much, it was time to renew a contract, and that's what we did. It was really, really easy, you know?"

Nurse added: "For me, I love coaching. I love the whole setup here we got, everything. For me, I just want to keep doing it. I want to continue to provide this city and this country with a tremendous amount of energy that they can all get behind and be proud of.

"It means a lot to me that everybody loves a team so much and we can go out there and give them, on most nights, something to really be proud of and play hard and look like we're organised and look like we're playing together and all that stuff. I love that part of it.

"That's really I want. I want to keep doing it. I want to do it in a place I want to be -- and here is where I want to be -- and with some guys I want to coach and with some people I want to work alongside."

While Nurse's future is secure, there are doubts over whether Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will return as they enter free agency.

Nurse experienced similar at the end of 2018-19 as championship heroes Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green departed for the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers respectively via free agency.

There are also concerns regarding Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, who has one year remaining on his contract.

Asked if he was concerned, Nurse replied: "Yeah, for sure. We've been together, [general manager] Bobby [Webster], Masai and I, for seven years now. Only a real close working relationship for two, since I became a head coach, and we feel like a team. We feel like a team that leads the organisation. So yeah, there's a little concern.

"I was never concerned that they were not going to get a deal done for me. I feel the same way about Bobby and the same for Masai. If something changes, we'll do the best we can. If it changes, it will probably be for a good reason for somebody or a better reason. If not, we'll just keep working together."

Brad Stevens has challenged the Boston Celtics to "get after it" as they bid to get back into their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Miami Heat.

Already up against a 3-1 deficit, it could be curtains for the Celtics' season on Friday when Game 5 comes around.

A regular-season record of 48-24, to Miami's 44-29, had indicated the Celtics should be competitive, while Boston also came out on top in two of their three previous clashes with the Heat in 2019-20.

Yet a 112-109 loss in Game 4 dealt a blow to hopes of reaching the championship series, with 20-year-old rookie Tyler Herro draining a career-high 37 points for Miami who are just a win away now from the NBA Finals.

"It's hard to win a playoff game, right?" head coach Stevens said.

"We're just looking at how can we play better on Friday night. That's the most important game of the season. We need to play our best game yet. That's it."

Coming from 3-1 down to win a best-of-seven series is a daunting challenge, but Stevens is not looking at the prospect of having to win three straight games.

The clear message from the coach is: one game at a time.

"I don't know what the historical odds are," he said. "It doesn't really matter. The situation we're in, we've got to play well Friday. We don't have to win three games on Friday; we have to win one.

"That's going to be our focus. That's going to be our attention. We'll get after it."

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