LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Duncan Robinson was struggling with his 3-point shot in the N.B.A. finals, and that was a problem because shooting 3-pointers is the one thing he does exceptionally well. Jimmy Butler, his teammate on the Miami Heat, invited him to his hotel room for a late-night chat. It was a pep talk with a heavy dose of tough love.
“He’s hard on me, but it’s because he expects a lot,” Robinson said. “I welcome that. I love that. This whole team wants me to be aggressive and do my job.”
Butler has done pretty much everything in this finals series — including motivational speaking — and he delivered again in the Heat’s 111-108 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 on Friday night, collecting 35 points, 12 rebounds 11 assists and 5 steals. The Lakers lead the series, three games to two, ahead of Game 6 on Sunday night.
And Robinson did his job, too, even though the Lakers had arrived ready to celebrate. They broke out the black uniforms that Kobe Bryant had helped design. Anthony Davis wore gold sneakers. And there was LeBron James, who played like a man who had been living out of a suitcase for three months and desperately wanted to go home. He crammed 40 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists into 42 minutes.
The only problem was that the Lakers were playing the Heat, and Butler had a supporting cast whose confidence appeared to be fueled, at least in part, by his belief in them.
Exhibit A: Robinson, an undrafted, second-year forward who was enormous in the win, scoring 26 points while shooting 7 of 13 from 3-point range. His final 3-pointer, late in the fourth quarter, gave the Heat a 2-point lead, helping set the stage for a thrilling duel between Butler and James down the stretch.
After Butler made a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds left, James drove into the paint at the other end and found Danny Green open for a 3-pointer that would have given his team the lead. Green missed, and his teammate Markieff Morris tossed the ball out of bounds after grabbing the rebound.
“If you just look at the play,” James said, “I was able to draw two defenders below the free-throw line and find one of our shooters at the top of the key for a wide-open 3 to win a championship. I trusted him, we trusted him, and it just didn’t go. You live with that.”
One game is a small sample, of course, but there is little question that Butler had more reliable help. All five starters for the Heat scored at least 11 points, and Kendrick Nunn had 14 points off the bench. James and Anthony combined to score 68 points for the Lakers. The rest of their teammates shot 30 percent from the field.
Erik Spoelstra, the coach of the Heat, never knows when Robinson — or Nunn, or Tyler Herro — will catch fire. Spoelstra referred to them as “sticks of dynamite.” But even as Robinson labored to find his rhythm earlier in the series, he continued making strong cuts. It was going to pay off eventually.
“I thought he was just so persistent,” Spoelstra said, “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 and continues to run his routes with great force.”
Through the first three games of the series, Robinson was shooting just 27.3 percent from the field and 25 percent from the 3-point line. After the Heat won Game 3 last Sunday, Butler reserved a portion of his postgame news conference to broadcast his support for his teammate.
“He’s going to be a reason that we win one of these games,” Butler said at the time. “He’s going to hit six, seven 3s, and I’m going to jump up and down, and I’m going to give him a big hug, maybe a slight kiss on the back of his head, because I know how important that guy is to our team.”
Robinson came through on Friday.
His story has become more familiar to fans in recent weeks, but it is still unusual. Lightly recruited out of high school, he played one season at Williams College, where he helped the Ephs to the Division III national championship game. He then transferred to Michigan for his final three seasons, averaging 9.2 points a game as a senior.
He did not have the sort of résumé that indicated he would be an indispensable scorer for an N.B.A. title contender within two years. But the Heat saw something in him — his length, at 6-foot-7, and his ability to shoot from comically long distances. After spending most of last season building his skills in the G League, Robinson moved into Miami’s starting lineup this season, averaging 13.5 points while making 44.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
“Every time he shoots, we feel like it’s going in,” Herro said.
After Friday’s game, Robinson wore a T-shirt with a picture of Goran Dragic, the team’s starting point guard. Dragic has been out of the lineup since Game 1, when he tore a ligament in his left foot. The Heat are not whole, but they are determined to push the Lakers to the brink. At the same time, Dragic has made his presence felt in other ways.
“Goran’s just always in my ear to be aggressive, to hunt shots and play to the best of my ability on both sides of the ball,” Robinson said.
Robinson has been listening to his teammates, and putting their advice to good use.