Lakers’ defense cools off Heat, puts L.A. one win away from title

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The irony is the Lakers finally started to defend Jimmy Butler like the Heat have defended LeBron James the last few games.

After Butler dominated Game 3 on Sunday, the Lakers changed their defense on the Heat star in Game 4: Anthony Davis was the primary defender, and Los Angeles went under every pick. Way under. Take away the drive and dare him to shoot threes under. And when Butler did drive late, Davis sealed the win with a block.

It was an old-school, physical, defensive slugfest of a game, and the Lakers can win that way — they had the third-best defense in the league during the regular season and have been elite on that end in the playoffs. They have fantastic rotations, guys keep each other accountable, and they are long.

Plus, the Lakers have LeBron, who took over the game late with 11 fourth-quarter points.

It all came together for a 102-96 Los Angeles win that has the Lakers one win away from an NBA championship. Game 5 is on Friday night.

“They are long and they are an extremely good defensive team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “[Shooting] windows have to be much quicker. I thought we had some opportunities, but you do have to credit their defense and they just made some more plays going down the stretch.”

Both of these teams like to get their points in the paint, but those are becoming harder and harder to come by as this series wears on. That’s why Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was critical for the Lakers in Game 4 — he had 15 points and three corner threes that were critical in the win.

As a team, the Lakers were 9-of-14 on corner threes, finally making Miami pay for a pack-the-paint strategy that had worked for six quarters coming into Game 4.

LeBron finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists. Davis had 22 points for Los Angeles.

Butler finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but he was passive or passing out of shots at times — the Laker length and defense seemed to get to him. Butler gave credit to Davis.

“I mean, he’s an incredible defender. He contests a lot of shots, blocks shots,” Butler said of Davis. “But I just think I got to be better at getting my guys involved, more dribble hand-offs, more screens, maybe playing a little bit without the ball, playing off the ball.”

“That’s why he’s the Defensive Player of the Year,” LeBron said, making a point (Davis finished second in DPOY voting). “We said that all year. His ability to play one through five, guard anybody on the floor, take the challenge, not only guard on the perimeter, continue to protect the paint. Guards drive on him. It’s hard to score on him. You see how high Herro threw that ball up? It went in, but he had to throw that thing up to the skyscrapers, right?

“That guy can do everything defensively. Guarding the ball, guard the post, slide his feet with guards, contest, can body up with bigs. I mean, need I say more?”

Tyler Herro had 21 for the Heat, Duncan Robinson had 17. Bam Adebayo played well and scored 15 points with seven rebounds in his return to action.

Those Heat have to win on Friday or their season is over.

“Our confidence ain’t going nowhere, it’s going to stay high, I’m going to make sure that it stays high, because it’s going to have to be at an all-time high to get this next win,” Butler said.