LOS ANGELES — From the minute he stepped onto an NBA court, LeBron James has always been more Magic than Michael. LeBron thought pass first. He tried to set up teammates and make the right basketball play — and was criticized for it by shallow pundits who wanted him to be like Mike.
This season, LeBron James has taken on the point guard/playmaking duties with the Lakers. That’s led to a career-best season of assists, averaging a league-leading 10.8 per game.
It felt fitting that LeBron picked up his 9,000th career assist Sunday night on a look-ahead to his current favorite target, Anthony Davis.
LeBron is ninth on the all-time assist list and will move up to eighth in the coming weeks when he moves past Isaiah Thomas.
“It’s something that was instilled in me when I first picked up a basketball,” LeBron said of his love of playmaking. “Little league coach Frank Walker always talked about it. It’s the greatest part of basketball to be able to see the ball move from side to side, to be able to attract the defense and get your teammates an open shot. When I was a little kid, I was somewhat better than some of my teammates, it was much more of a greater reward to see some of the teammates who can’t dribble or can’t score for themselves, to get them an open look…
“I knew that was the way I wanted to play. Been that way all my life.”
LeBron also has more than 30,000 points and more than 9,000 rebounds. His career has been well-rounded.
But it would not have been as legendary if it had not been pass-first.
Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor
The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!
Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.
Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.
Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:
Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.
Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.
Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.
Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals
All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”
The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.
The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.
That run became 75-30.
“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.
That was the ballgame.
The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.
The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.
“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”
“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.
More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.
With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).
In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.
This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.
“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”
Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.
Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.
Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.
“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”
Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury
Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.
Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.
#MIAvsLAL INJURY UPDATE: Goran Dragic (left foot) is doubtful to return to tonight's #NBAFinals game vs the Lakers.
This start was expected, especially after how well Dwight Howard played in the Denver series against Nikola Jokic.
It creates an interesting defensive choice for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat: Do they start Bam Adebayo on Davis and have Jae Crowder on Howard, or reverse that. Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player who may be the best one-on-one matchup in the league for Davis, but does Spoelstra want to risk early foul trouble for his star center, and would it wear Adebayo down to have to work so hard on both ends. Expect Crowder to start on Davis and Adebayo to get the key minutes later in the game.
“Probably fouling,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said when asked what was at the top of the team scouting report for the Heat. “I think they are great at getting to the free throw line. If we can play with discipline, not give them opportunities to shoot free throws, set their defense, that will help us win games, because they are great at getting to the free throw line.”
Howard can’t mess that plan up for Los Angeles. But he’s going to get the chance.