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Saturday, October 03, 2020

Davis and James Dominate as Lakers Take 2-0 Lead

Game two of the NBA Finals looked like a five on five version of an older, bigger brother dominating his younger, smaller brother in a backyard or a driveway. Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined for 65 points and 23 rebounds as the L.A. Lakers won 124-114 over the Miami Heat to take a 2-0 lead. The Lakers outrebounded the Heat 44-37, and the Lakers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. The Lakers shot .505 from the field overall, including .660 on two point field goals--and most of those two point field goals were attempted in the paint as the Lakers shredded the Heat's zone defense. The Lakers scored nearly every time that they attacked the middle of the zone or crept in on the baseline, causing the Heat to collapse their defense in the paint and resulting in the Lakers setting a Finals single game record by attempting 47 three pointers. Unlike the Houston Rockets, the Lakers set up their three pointers by attacking the paint, as opposed to just jacking up long range shots regardless of what the defense is doing.

Davis finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 15-20 from the field; he had eight offensive rebounds, and he made 14 of his first 16 field goal attempts. Davis is the fifth player to score at least 30 points in each of his first two NBA Finals games, joining Hal Greer (1967), Rick Barry (1967), Michael Jordan (1991), and Kevin Durant (2012). James had 32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, and no turnovers; he shot 14-25 from the field.

While Davis and James led the way, the contributions of the Lakers' other two likely future Hall of Famers should not be overlooked. Rajon Rondo scored 16 points on 5-9 field goal shooting, and he led the Lakers with 10 assists. Dwight Howard started at center, and he set the tone early with six quick points in the paint on 3-3 field goal shooting.

The Heat were without the services of two starters: All-Star center Bam Adebayo, and former All-Star guard Goran Dragic. ABC commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson correctly pointed out moments and situations when the Heat could have played harder or hustled more--and Udonis Haslem delivered that message with great emphasis during a third quarter timeout--but the brutal reality is that size combined with talent/athleticism can wear a team down not only physically but also mentally. ESPN's Richard Jefferson suggested that the Heat played hard enough and well enough that they likely would have won if Adebayo had been available; the Heat just did not have enough size or enough depth to contend with the Lakers.

Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 25 points and 13 assists. He also had eight rebounds while playing 45 minutes. He matched James play for play, and the only criticism that one could make is that perhaps Butler should have looked for his shot more often as opposed to driving with the intent to pass--but Butler has never been a 30 ppg scorer or a player who regularly explodes for 40 or 50 points, so it is not in his nature to play that way. Butler's ability to lift his teammates to another level is very evident, and explains why his previous teams improved when he arrived only to regress after he left. We are learning a lot not only about Butler, but also about his previous teammates who he criticized and/or who criticized him: I would take Butler all day any day over any of those guys, even though several of them are bigger and/or more athletically gifted. As Mike Singletary once said, "I want winners."

Prior to the game, ESPN's Rachel Nichols asked Butler how his ankle--which he injured in game one--feels, and he replied, "Nobody cares." Butler refused to make excuses or change his expectations for team success. After the game, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra delivered a similar message, stating that in life if you want something badly enough then you figure out what you have to do to get it. There are players who will say that they do not make excuses, but then those same players will tell you in detail about their injuries; LeBron James has done that throughout his career, dating all the way back to his mysterious elbow injury that did not stop him from shooting half court shots during pre-game warmups in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Kelly Olynyk filled in admirably for Adebayo, coming off the bench to score 24 points and snare nine rebounds in 37 minutes. Tyler Herro bounced back from a subpar game one to score 17 points and grab seven rebounds. The Heat dusted off rookie Kendrick Nunn--a major contributor during the regular season who fell out of the playoff rotation prior to Dragic's injury--and he added 13 points. However, the Heat just do not have enough talent or depth to beat the Lakers without Adebayo and Dragic.

The Lakers attacked the paint from the start of the game, and the Heat had no answers. The Lakers led by as much as 17 points in the first half, and they were up 68-54 at halftime. The Lakers shot .565 from the field in the first half, including 17-20 (.850) on two point shots. Those shooting percentages look like Bill Walton's in the 1973 NCAA Championship Game or Villanova's in the 1985 NCAA Championship Game, not like anything one would expect to see in the NBA Finals. In the first half the Lakers also set the Finals record for most three pointers attempted in a half (27). Most Lakers' possessions ended with Davis or James playing bully ball in the paint, or someone attempting a wide open three pointer.

The Lakers maintained a double digit lead for most of the second half, though the Heat cut the margin to 100-91 late in the third quarter after Herro sank a pair of free throws. This game was more competitive than game one but at no time did the outcome of the game appear to be in doubt. 

If Adebayo can return for game three and supply paint presence at both ends of the court, then perhaps the Heat still have a chance to make this a series. Otherwise, the Lakers will cruise to a sweep and the only question will be whether the media select Davis or James as the Finals MVP.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:37 AM



At Saturday, October 03, 2020 12:56:00 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

Hi David. Wonderful analysis as always. At this point I'm not completely sure how effective a compromised Bam would be even if he came back. He initially injured the shoulder in Game 4 of the ECF against the Celtics and leaping into the brick wall known as Dwight Howard apparently reaggravated it. Olynyck played very well in his absence and spread the floor in a way that I'm not sure Bam can do. Perhaps if Bam returns they can start both although that would present its own issues.

The problem for Miami is that they largely succeeded in their gameplan in Game 2 and still came away with a dispiriting loss. First they shot 40/50/90 from the floor which are stunning field goal percentage splits. It seems impossible to replicate that. They also doubled the Lakers free throw attempts 34-17 and made over 90 percent of them. This alone accounted for a 20 point differential. They got the Lakers to take an NBA Finals 47 3's of which they made only 34%. A large part of that problem was Danny Green and KCP who shot an abysmal 3/19 from range. The Lakers also played an unexpectedly sloppy defensive 3rd quarter allowing 39 points. Jimmy Butler played a phenomenal game for 45 minutes on a sore ankle

Despite all of this, the Heat still lost by 10 and it wasn't all that close at the end of the game.

I guess barring some type of catastrophic injury there doesn't seem to be any realistic way for the Heat to avoid a sweep.

Speaking of Jimmy Butler, I have such respect and love for that man's game. He is a true winner and knowing his history it makes me think that unless KAT, Wiggins, Embiid, and Simmons grow up fast they are not going to come close to sniffing a Finals let alone a championship any time soon.

You may or may not be aware but apparently Butler was willing to take slightly less money to joing AD and Lebron on the Lakers but because we were being strung along by Kawhi's camp waiting for him in the hopes of getting him to come to the Lakers, we lost Jimmy to the Heat as he rightly decided not to wait.

In retrospect of course I would much rather have had Butler than Load Management Kawhi and one can only imagine what this team would have been like with Jimmy Butler as the 3rd best player on it. The bubble really destroys weak minded players and it comes as no surprise to me that the Clippers flamed out and Butler's Heat overachieved and made the Finals as the East's 5th seed.

I know pining for what could have been is a basketball first world problem and we will just have to be satisfied with Lebron and AD bringing Los Angeles its 17th Championship but I can't help but think of what could have been with Butler on this squad did we only have the wit and wisdom to have chosen him over the diva Kawhi from the very beginning.

Keep up the good work and it's always a pleasure reading your blog.


At Saturday, October 03, 2020 5:45:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Interesting comment by Steve Kerr:

“I think LeBron is actually a way better player now than he was six years ago when he played in Miami,” Kerr said. “It’s remarkable watching the offensive transformation since then, and his confidence in his shooting, and that’s what Miami has to deal with.”

In my opinion, LeBron was quicker back then, but his IQ is much better now. His court vision is topnotch. His playoff approach is much more methodical, systematic in which he controls the pace better, and knows when to get his teammates going.

But LBJ's leadership is most impressive - the way he carries himself, and is completely focused. This is why my point about this being his third peak is not an over-simplification, as opposed to your monological POV that there is only one.

When you only blog on perception to confirm your long-running theories, like stat-padding in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Finals, as opposed to LBJ's clutch play in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Finals, it is obvious you have trouble giving credit where credit is due.

I consider clutch play most commendable, but you seem to have difficulty reconciling such performances with mistakes in the past that were too egregious to ignore, so you have to constantly remind your readers with a catalogue of mortal sins.

We all will miss him once he is gone.

At Saturday, October 03, 2020 9:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for the compliments.

Unless Adebayo is completely ineffective, his return would be a big boost, and the added talent/depth could be enough for Miami to win game three (assuming that the other Heat players perform comparably to how they performed in game two).

As you noted, the Heat proved in game two that they can score prolifically and efficiently against the Lakers even while missing two of their top scorers/playmakers.

At Saturday, October 03, 2020 9:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is an interesting comment but it sounds like hyperbole. James is "way better" than he was six years ago? Six years ago in his final season with the Heat, James averaged 27.1 ppg during the regular season while shooting a career high .567 from the field. During the playoffs he averaged 27.4 ppg while shooting a playoff career high .565 from the field. His rebounds and assists fluctuate year to year based on his position/role/teammates but he is not a better rebounder, passer or defensive player now than he was as a 29 year old during his prime. It is rather silly to suggest otherwise. This season, LeBron decided to lead the league in assists--reminiscent of what Wilt Chamberlain did one season--and that is an impressive accomplishment, but assist numbers do not persuade me that LeBron is a better passer now than he was in previous seasons. He is passing to the most talented teammate he has ever had, an MVP-caliber player who is just entering his prime. This is also the first season that--due to a combination of Anthony Davis' talent and LeBron James' aging--LeBron has willingly accepted not being his team's leading scorer.

I have documented LeBron's NBA career from the start, I witnesses a significant portion of it in person, and I have noted his greatness, his puzzling passivity at times, his clutch play, and his stat padding. All of those things are aspects of his story, and that unique combination of elements makes him the most puzzling Pantheon-level player of them all.

I never suggested that he is not great or that he will not be missed. I write what I see and what I know, which often runs counter to the biases strongly held by many commentators and fans.

At Sunday, October 04, 2020 2:17:00 AM, Anonymous Cyber said...

I think the stat padding is definitely valid to bring up as it's something that's often crept up with LeBron anytime there has been a large gap in the scoreboard, the box score makes AD/LeBron look 1a/1b but from watching the 2 games (and the entire postseason) it is clear AD has had a bigger hand in their PS dominance, I have a feeling the media will continue to overlook his dominance though

The Heat have put up a valiant effort but it's hard to see much more out of them, they have a great story particularly from Butler, I would definitely like to see a better showing the rest of the series as unlikely as that is

At Sunday, October 04, 2020 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Incredible performance by Butler tonight.

At Monday, October 05, 2020 10:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes--incredible and one of the best ever.


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