LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson slipped free Friday night in the first quarter of Game 5 for a rarity for him in the NBA Finals.
An open look for a 3-pointer.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green lost track of Robinson, who caught a pass from Jimmy Butler and made a corner three on his first attempt. It turned out to be the first of Robinson’s seven 3-pointers in the Heat’s 111-108 victory over the Lakers.
Robinson scored a playoff career-high 26 points, was 7-for-13 on 3s, and his 3-pointer with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter and .6 seconds left on the shot clock put Miami ahead 101-99. In a game of big shots, Robinson’s late 3 was part of a 15-9 Heat run to close out the game and force Game 6 on Sunday.
“Coach Spo (Erik Spoelstra) says it to me all the time: persistence,” Robinson said. “That’s what it’s all about for me. If you’re relentless throughout a game, you’ll get your looks.”
Heat guard Duncan Robinson was a three-point machine during the regular season. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
This hasn’t been an easy series for Robinson, a second-year guard who came into his own this season as one of the league’s top 3-point shooters. He was fifth in 3s made per game (3.7), third in 3s made (270) and fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (44.6%). In the playoffs, Robinson is shooting 39.6% on 3s and making three per game.
The Lakers have made it part of their defensive game plan to limit Robinson’s 3s. Los Angeles guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chases Robinson all over the offensive end of the court. Many times, Robinson jumps to shoot, and Caldwell-Pope is right there, forcing a pass.
“Obviously, they’ve done a really good job scheming to take things away, but for me, it’s just about finding a way – whatever it takes to get to my spots,” Robinson said. “If you continue to do that, you’ll have your openings. You’ll be able to find spots here and there. If I catch the ball and can see the rim, it’s going up, pretty much."
Robinson works for his opportunities, constantly cutting, changing direction and moving sideline-to-sideline. In the Finals, just four players have covered more miles per game than Robinson (2.42) and just three have covered more miles per game on the offensive end than Robinson (1.31, just behind LeBron James’ 1.34), according to NBA tracking data.
“We just know his makeup, his character, he's going to continue to work his routes,” Spoelstra said. “I thought he was just so persistent, and their level of physicality on him as well is nothing like the regular season or nothing like the first three rounds. He just dusts himself off, continues to run his routes with great force.”
Robinson, who started his college career at Division III Williams College before transferring to Michigan, is one of the great NBA development stories. He played more games in the G League last season than he did with Miami. The program to turn him into an elite shooter and serviceable defender worked. He started 68 of 73 games for Miami this season.
Through the first three games of the series, Robinson made just 5-of-20 3s, including a scoreless effort in Game 1. He wasn’t deterred. All he needs is a sliver of space. He has a knack for looking like he is off-balance, but he gets his shoulders square to the basket to launch a quick, sweet-looking jump shot.
In the Heat’s offense based on ball movement, player movement and driving to the basket, Duncan not only needs to be a 3-point threat, he needs to make them. Spoelstra wants him to keep shooting, and Jimmy Butler has been in his ear. After Game 2, Butler and Robinson had a late-night meeting.
“He’s hard on me, but it’s because he expects a lot,” Robinson said. “I welcome that. I love that. This team just wants me to be aggressive and do my job. I thought I didn’t do it well enough in the first two. Disappointed in that, but at this point, you can only control what you can control, and that’s these games. Now, it’s Sunday, so I’ve got to go out and do what I do."
Butler said he told him to “stop running from the basketball; can't shoot the ball if you don't have the ball. I think he gets lost in trying to get other people open, when everybody is going to react to him probably more so than they're going to react to me.
“A three is worth more than a two. So as long as he's coming to the ball, shooting the ball when he's open, when he's not open, that's the Duncan Robinson that we need, that we want, because that's how he's been playing all year long. And we're going to need him to be even more aggressive for Game 6.”
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