It’s a series now. I thought there would be trouble when they interviewed Jimmy Butler prior to tip-off and he smiled and said everything that went wrong was something they could control. He was right. So if you weren’t entertained before tonight because you thought it was a cake walk or that this series would have an asterisk for some reason there’s an old axiom you should tread softly around: be careful what you wish for.
- Misleading stats. If you haven’t already go ahead and check the box score. You’ll see a game where we shot an even amount of free throws, we still had a potent transition offense (15-9 in fast break points), we dominated the offensive glass (11-3), we scored more points off turnovers (21-17), we made one more free throw and 2 more three pointers. But the Heat played harder, did not have to work as hard on the offensive end as we had been making them. We lost because of a lack of effort and cohesion on the defensive end. That was both a by product of Anthony Davis’s foul trouble and a lack of effort in general.
- Jimmy Butler. If you weren’t yet aware of how freaking good Butler can be you probably are now. The man can hoop it up with the best of them, Finals opponents included. His 40 point triple double put him in some pretty elite company, a room shared only by Jerry West and his current opponent Mr. LeBron James. He was a 7 bounce Kawhi Leonard shot from this being his second straight trip to the NBA Finals, became a superstar nobody ever thought he could be. Has shown at every stop that he has the kind of edge you need in a superstar, the kind of edge that plays through perception, stats and media hot wind. The kind of player that just beat the perceived Finals favorite. I make it a point never to dismiss a professionals talent, especially in sport. The hours these people spend on their bodies, their craft, their minds and then add that to team practices…it’s an absurd amount of time. It’s a testament to the power of the human mind and body. The Bubble presents yet another unique, yet-to-be-experienced wrinkle to all of this. So, tip of the cap to Jimmy B. Good game, man.
- The Laker bench. These guys are plucky as all get out and they showed up huge tonight. Had we gotten anything from the our starters not named LeBron and AD this game would have gone very differently. Kyle Kuzma had his best game of the NBA Finals by a country mile and I really hope it’s something he can build on. Caruso was steady on both ends. Markieff Morris got hot early and kept us in the game after getting down big and early…again (more on that down yonder) and Rondo was good, not great but good. The bench made this more of a game that it looked like and here’s hoping they got a couple more efforts like that in ’em.
- Don’t get down big early man… Two games in a row we got down by double digits early but tonight we didn’t have the mojo to overcome the slow start. It’s not like we never led (we did) and it’s not like we didn’t have a chance to win the game (we also did) but we never made the Heat feel uncomfortable, they always looked poised and in control. They definitely played harder over the course of the game. So, if the Lakers want to avoid a series altering 2-2 tie on Tuesday they need to start the game better. A lot better.
- The Heat’s defensive adjustment and how the Lakers can use it to their advantage. The Heat gave us a little bit of our medicine. They went away from the 2-3 zone with the wings on the edge and more into a lot more man-to-man, and a little 1-2 side zone with ball blitzing. A really nifty adjustment that stopped Lebron from getting into the paint at will because he always had a man in front of him and couple long, rangy dudes disrupting his favored passing lanes (big in the paint or corner three trigger man). That gummed up enough of the Laker offense but the Heat also didn’t just double LeBron, they baited him into making his move and then quickly swallowed up his drive. Add to that the constant double, sometimes triple teams Davis faced and you have a riddle for the coaching staff: how to shake Davis loose. I think we’ll see a little more Dwight Howard, actually. We’ll see screens set to free up backdoor cuts, we’ll see Dwight and AD screen for one another and most importantly I hope we see more of Anthony on the move, getting the ball and not over-thinking and letting the defense get set and swarm him. He needs to be quicker in his decision-making from here on out. LeBron needs to look to score and not assist when Davis sits, too. If our bench plays anything like they did tonight and we get anything from KCP and Green (combined -41 tonight) I like our chances in any game going forward.
Don’t sweat it Lakerholics. There are at least 2 more games to go, maybe 4. This is the biggest, brightest stage an NBA team can ever hope to play on and we’ve not seen in for a decade. Enjoy it, savor it, like a tasty meal. We got beat tonight, the Heat are a great team. They have great players. This was never supposed to be easy. So don’t sweat it.