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Butler pushing LeBron James like this is incredible

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LeBron James has lived through many NBA Finals games in which he’s played great and lost. It’s one of the stories of his career.

But the Game 5 duel James staged with Jimmy Butler in the Miami Heat‘s season-saving 111-108 victory Friday over the Los Angeles Lakers instantly goes in the pantheon of his career showdowns.

Before Friday night, James’ greatest man-on-man heavyweight-style match was with Paul Pierce, still the most tenured of all James’ rivals, in Game 7 of the 2008 conference semifinals. James scored 45 of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 92 points that Sunday afternoon in Boston. Pierce had 41, the two players guarding each other, getting to their sweet spots and one-upping big plays all while holding, pushing and cursing. The Celtics won by five.

But that one probably goes down a peg after this James-Butler show. These two were brilliant in going chest-to-chest all night, culminating in a climax in the final three minutes in which they traded off scoring on six consecutive possessions. Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were on the James vs. Pierce broadcast 12 years ago, and they were there again Friday to call a beautiful game.

Butler finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals and a block in playing all but 48 seconds of the game. It was an incredibly efficient performance, featuring 11-for-19 shooting, even though he repeatedly had to deal with a big, elite defender in Anthony Davis.

James simply had one of the greatest shooting games of his already exhaustively impressive Finals career. He made 15 of his 21 shots and six of his nine 3s, dream numbers for a player who values efficiency. He closed with 40 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.

“That’s the beauty of the game, being able to compete at the highest level,” James said. “You take those opportunities and you live in the moment. You’re trying to make plays for your team and be successful on both ends.”

In the end, they were indeed guarding each other. James was on Butler when Heat teammate Jae Crowder set a perfect back screen that freed Butler to get to the basket and draw a foul on Davis. The following free throws were the difference in the game.

Butler checked James on the final play, but James faced a double- and then a triple-team as he got into the paint, leading him to a kickout that resulted in a missed 3-pointer that might haunt Danny Green for a while.

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LeBron James passes out to Danny Green, who misses a potential game-winning shot, then Markieff Morris tosses the ball out of bounds as the Lakers falter late in Game 5.

That was it — that’s how small the gap was. In between there were so many displays of force offset with nuanced reads and finesse that led to a powerful, sublime back and forth.

In that fourth quarter, James had 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists as he had to carry the Lakers with Davis hobbling on a sore foot. Butler had 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, continuing to play mostly point guard with Heat star Goran Dragic out with his own foot injury.

“That’s what really, really, really great players do,” Butler said of the battle. “But we ain’t backing down. We ain’t shying away. We can go on the other end and do what we do. I think [James] had a hell of a performance tonight.”

James now has 10 playoff losses in his career when he has scored 40 points, second to only Michael Jordan‘s 12.

Butler has scored or assisted on 240 points in the past four games. That’s the most in a Finals span other than James, who had 245 in the 2017 Finals. Jordan had 239 in a four-game stretch in 1993.

These guys are touching history, and when it comes to James that’s a ridiculously high standard. But that’s how great Butler has been. And that’s how special what’s unfolding between these two is becoming.

“We were both just trying to do that and trying to will our team to a victory,” James said. “You know, he was able to make one more play than I was able to make tonight and come away with a victory.”

MORE: What can the Lakers do about Jimmy Butler?

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What Full Democratic Control Of The White House And Congress Would Look Like

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In this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew compares Joe Biden’s lead now with Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 and considers the agenda Democrats might pursue if they win the presidency, House and Senate in November.

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Struggles by Bills, Allen against AFC elite a cause for concern

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Through the first four weeks of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills looked like the league’s next-great offense. Powered by a potential MVP candidate in QB Josh Allen with a palpable connection between him and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the Bills boasted the NFL’s fourth-best offense in terms of yards per game and fifth-best in terms of points scored.

Buffalo’s offensive success masked any concerns about its defense’s slow drift into a liability; or distracted from it, at least. But if the past two weeks are any indication, there is room for concern on both sides of the ball.

The Bills surrendered more rushing yards (245) than passing yards (221) in a 26-17 loss Monday to the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s offense never got into a rhythm as Allen looked more like his rookie self than the NFL’s eighth-leading passer entering Week 6. He missed throws throughout the night and outside of an impressive touchdown throw to Diggs (whose catch was arguably more impressive than the throw), it was an utterly forgettable night for the Bills’ quarterback.

Especially after a humbling loss to the unbeaten Titans in Week 5, Buffalo needed a bounce-back game against another quality opponent to prove its blowout defeat was more of an anomaly than a regression to the mean. But Monday’s showing added more credibility to the argument that the Bills were fool’s gold to start the season.

Is that the truth? Reality might not be so dramatic. Buffalo has a get-right game against the winless New York Jets in Week 8 before hosting the Patriots in a critical AFC East matchup in Week 9. The season’s not over and the Bills’ outspoken goal of winning their division is still very much intact. But the talk of them as Super Bowl contenders appears presumptuous until proven otherwise.

Describe the game in two words: No energy. The Bills routinely credit the support they get from their fans for the team’s success, and the rest of the world might have underestimated just how serious they were. Monday night marked the second straight home game in which Buffalo played with a visible lack of energy and with no end in sight for New York state’s ban on fan attendance, this is an issue the Bills need to get over.

Promising/troubling trend: The Bills hadn’t allowed a ton of rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks entering Week 6 — just 84 yards, total, ranking 19th-most in the NFL. However, the yards they had given up were a back-breaking 6 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks, which was fourth-highest in the league. That trend continued against Patrick Mahomes, who ran for 38 yards on 8 attempts, including a 9-yard scramble to convert a 3rd-and-7 on the Chiefs’ game-sealing possession late in the fourth quarter.

Biggest hole in gameplan: It’s reasonable to think the Bills picked their poison when developing their plan for Monday night, opting to sell out to limit the Chiefs’ passing game and sacrifice yards on the ground. But there’s a difference between sacrificing yards on the ground and opening the floodgates, and the Bills flirted with the latter for the majority of the game. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 161 yards on 26 carries as Buffalo allowed more than 200 rushing yards for just the sixth time under Sean McDermott. To their credit, the Bills clamped down on the run late in the game — but ultimately, it was too late to change the outcome.

Pivotal play: A momentum-swinging, three-play span put the game on ice late in the fourth quarter. After pulling within one score, the Bills seemingly forced and recovered a fumble on the third play of the Chiefs’ ensuing drive. However, Edwards-Helaire’s knee was ruled down and Kansas City kept the ball. Two plays later, on third-and-12, Mahomes completed a 37-yard pass to Bryce Pringle to put the Chiefs in field goal range. The drive ended in a game-sealing field goal but was nearly a game-changing defensive possession for Buffalo.

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In rarity, Chiefs turn to ground game in victory

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To get the Kansas City Chiefs back in the win column after their first defeat in 11 months, coach Andy Reid turned his playbook upside down in Monday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills.

For only the second time in Patrick Mahomes’ 37 career starts, the Chiefs ran the ball more than they passed it. They were rewarded for the change with a 26-17 victory.

The Chiefs rushed for 245 yards on Monday, their most since 2012. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire led the way with 161 yards.

Kansas City also had 46 rushes, the most attempts by any Reid-coached team, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. (Reid coached the Philadelphia Eagles for 14 seasons before becoming the Chiefs’ coach in 2013.)

Mahomes was still efficient, going 21-of-26 with two first-half touchdown passes to Travis Kelce. But Mahomes threw for only 225 yards on a rainy night in Buffalo.

But days after signing veteran back Le’Veon Bell to provide an offensive spark, the running game was the star even without Bell. He can’t join the Chiefs until later this week because of COVID-19 testing protocols.

The Chiefs played most of the game without two starting offensive linemen. Guard Kelechi Osemele tore tendon in each of his knees in last week’s game while tackle Mitchell Schwartz left the game for good in the first half with a back injury.

The Chiefs led for a significant portion of last week’s game against the Raiders but Mahomes still dropped back 46 times with 43 passes and three sacks. Chiefs running backs had just 11 carries with 10 going to Edwards-Helaire.

The loss to the Raiders broke the Chiefs’ 13-game winning streak, including the playoffs and Super Bowl LIV last season.

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