Lakers 116, Heat 98 (Lakers winning series 1-0)
It’s a little hard to believe that we’re being treated to an NBA Finals after such a disastrous 2020 across the board, so shout out to the NBA, the players and everyone else involved to make the bubble a roaring success.
And let’s not kid ourselves, there will be no asterisk for whoever wins this series as both the Lakers and Heat have more than proven themselves as two legitimate powerhouses — both teams entered this series with a 12-3 playoff record.
Game 1 got off to a raucous start and certainly lived up to the hype in the first quarter, but Miami quickly unraveled after a bombardment of L.A. 3-pointers and the Lakers pretty much sealed the deal before halftime with a 65-48 lead. In 2020 style, things went from bad to worse quickly too, as the Heat started dropping like flies. Jimmy Butler tweaked his left ankle right before halftime, Goran Dragic picked up a severe foot injury and Bam Adebayo injured his left shoulder.
Butler’s injury has the least concern, as he was able to carry on and finished with 23 points, five assists, two rebounds, two steals and two triples in 33 minutes. David J. Chao, one of the best sports medicine doctors in the states, said Butler suffered a “left low inversion basketball type sprain” and added that he’ll have some soreness and swelling but that it looked worse than it is. I’d imagine he’ll be fine for Game 2, but he now has to chase LeBron around with a bum ankle while having to potentially do more on offense without Dragic (more on him in a bit). For those of you into betting/DFS, Butler does get a slight statistical bump with Dragic off the court with a per-36 line of 21.0 points, 5.0 assists and 2.3 steals.
Bam Adebayo was diagnosed with a left shoulder strain and was unable to return, though the lopsided score surely factored into their decision. The fact that he needed X-rays is a concern (the results were negative), but it sounds like he has a good shot to play in Game 2.
The biggest concern for Miami is the status of Dragic, as he suffered a torn plantar fascia. You’d think his season would be over, but not so fast, as multiple reports indicate that he still has a chance to return. For context, Malcolm Brogdon missed eight weeks with a torn plantar fascia last year, though it’s possible his was much more severe. Bobby Marks of ESPN cited another example, as Joe Johnson suffered a torn plantar fascia in his foot during Game 2 of the 2013 first round. Johnson did continue to play, but required an injection before each game. His play was greatly affected in a negative way though as his shooting numbers plummeted.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Dragic left the arena without a boot and noted that he wasn’t favoring his foot, so there’s a glimmer of optimism about his status moving forward. Dragic absolutely needs to play for Miami to have a prayer in this series, as he has been their leading scorer in the playoffs and gives the Heat a player who can put pressure on the rim with his drives.
None of this will matter though if Miami’s role players don’t show up to play, as Tyler Herro was a -35(!) in 30 minutes and Duncan Robinson finished scoreless in 27 minutes. To put Herro's -35 in perspective, it's the worst mark by a player in the NBA Finals since 2000. Both players were bullied by LeBron as he kept targeting them on switches, so maybe the Heat roll with Andre Iguodala a bit more. Kendrick Nunn will be the player to watch if Dragic can’t carry on, and Nunn reminded us tonight that he can still ball with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and two triples in 20 minutes. Although he’s been out of the rotation for most of the playoffs, this is a guy who started 67 regular season games with 15.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.0 triples. If the Heat go with the next man up, Nunn appears willing and ready.
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Now for the winners, LeBron James did what he does best and took whatever the Heat gave him. The Heat were swarming both James and Anthony Davis, so he was mostly a facilitator in this one with 25 points (9-of-17 FGs), 13 rebounds, nine assists, one steal and two triples. Sure he’s not as physically dominant as he once was, but he’s still very much in his prime — according to synergy basketball, James is creating, assisting and scoring more points per minute than he did in his last trip to the Finals. Simply put, he’s holding off Father Time better than anyone I can think of.
Davis may be the early frontrunner for Finals MVP though, racking up 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two triples. Willis Reed is the only other player in NBA history to reach those points/assists/rebounds totals in their Finals debut (h/t Justin Kubatko), and more massive lines are likely on the way. The Heat opened with Jae Crowder on Davis to free up Bam to be a free safety and clean up around the rim, so until he’s shadowed completely by Bam I don’t see him averaging less than 30 PPG in this series, even if Miami utilizes more zone defense.
Danny Green lives for the NBA Finals as we all know so of course he moved up to 7th in NBA history for 3-point makes in the Finals. He hit three of those tonight and finished with 11 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also had a successful night with 13 points and two triples. The Lakers were 15-of-38 overall from deep, and if they’re going to shoot even remotely close to this with so much attention on LBJ and Davis then there is just no hope for Miami.
And despite the lopsided win, I don’t think the Lakers are going to be complacent. They opened with a double-big lineup that finished with a -13 to start, so we may see less of Dwight Howard and more of Markieff Morris and maybe Kyle Kuzma going forward. Game 2 is set for Friday and we can expect plenty of updates on Miami's injuries on Thursday afternoon.