After a brutal first game of the 2020 NBA Finals, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and staff sat down and sketched out a strong plan for Game 2 against the Lakers: Play five out, move off the ball, attack the paint off the dribble on offense, and get to the line a lot. On defense, play a lot of zone and force the Lakers to make threes.
That smart plan ran into two big problems: LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers superstar duo combined for 65 points while shooting 64.4%, and they led the Lakers domination of Miami in the paint (56 points on 70% shooting inside).
Miami also was without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic to help execute Spoelstra’s plan (both sidelined with injuries), and not having their leading scorer this postseason (pre-injury) and best defender, the Heat were again overwhelmed by the Lakers.
Los Angeles had to work for this one but held on for a 124-114 win and now have a commanding 2-0 series heading into Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.
“We don’t give a s*** what everybody else thinks,” Spoelstra said of the chances of a Heat comeback.
It’s just tough to picture that come back after watching the Lakers, length and physicality overwhelm the Heat through two games.
Los Angeles has done that to the entire NBA — and it’s by design. Last summer, when it came time to fill in the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Laker GM Rob Pelinka decided to get length. He added mobile but more traditional centers — JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard — then landed perimeter players such as Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers went big but were not plodding or looking to play bully-ball. This was simply a basketball team built to counter the trends of the league.
“They have great size and Anthony Davis is an elite player,” Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to get something accomplished and you just have to go to another level. That’s the bottom line.”
With that Laker length and athleticism, there has been just enough shooting.
Miami tried to test that shooting by packing the paint in Game 2, and the Lakers made former coach Mike D’Antoni proud launching 47 threes, hitting 16 (34%). Not great, but good enough.
The Lakers also started to carve up the Heat 2-3 zone defense. Miami’s style with that is to put their guards along the baseline, have the big in the middle, and put their more athletic wings out top to slow penetration. The Lakers countered by having LeBron or Davis in the dunker’s spot along the baseline, getting the ball in the middle, and then when the defense went to stop the ball the Lakers’ best scorers were in position to thrive.
By thrive, I mean the Lakers shot 17-of-20 on twos in the first half. By thrive I mean the Lakers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — 40.7% of their missed shots — leading to 21 second-chance points.
The zone, however, did slow the pace, and that helped a scrappy Heat team stay close. Jimmy Butler had 25 points and 13 assists, Kelly Olynyk had 24 off the bench, and 17 from Tyler Herro.
“We definitely were not happy with our performance defensively tonight,” LeBron said, echoing what Davis and coach Frank Vogel had said on the podium not long before. “Hopefully we can be — well, we know, not hopefully, we know we can be better in Game 3.
Miami hung around in the second half, but could never get the lead lower than nine. Miami needs another gear.
“Jimmy is going to have to be Jimmy,” Olynyk said postgame. “We need him to do incredible things for us, like he has done all year, all playoffs. We’re going to need that from him. Whatever happens with the rest of us, we’re going to have to step up and help him.”
The Lakers got 33 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists from LeBron, while Davis had 32 points and 14 rebounds. Rondo had 16 points and 10 assists off the bench.
To slow the Lakers offense, the Heat need Adebayo — an All-Defensive Team player — back. His status for Game 3 is up in the air.
“We’re never giving up,” Butler said. “We’re going to fight and we’re going to ride with this thing until the wheels fall off. It’s not over. We’re just down 0-2, so we got to do something special. We’re capable of it.”