The Los Angeles Lakers set fire to the Miami Heat.
The Lakers drained 13 of their first 20 attempts from three-point range, and All-NBA big man Anthony Davis dominated the rest of the court in a 116-98 blowout of the Heat in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Davis amassed 34 points (11-21 FG, 2-4 3P, 10-10 FT), nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks to lead L.A., unleashing years of playoff frustration in his Finals debut. LeBron James, playing in the 50th Finals game of his career, logged 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Nine Lakers dialed in from distance, five of whom made multiple triples, outgunning a Heat squadron that figured threes for its sharpest edge.
“I’m just trying to go out there and be comfortable knowing that this is the moment I’ve waited for my entire career,” Davis told ESPN following the game, suggesting the nerves of his first career Finals game subsided with easy early looks. “I’m here, so maximize the opportunity, because it doesn’t come around too often.”
Anthony Davis scored 34 points. Since merger (1976-77), only players to score more in Finals debut are Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan per @ESPNStatsInfo. Davis said he's honored to be mentioned with greats but wants to be mentioned in the category of champions too.
— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) October 1, 2020
Lakers teammate Markieff Morris went so far as to dub Davis “the best player in the world,” ahead of James. There can be no more frightening thought than that for a Heat team that saw its starpower fade.
“It’s easy for AD, like I’ve been saying since I got on this team, man,” Morris told reporters after scoring eight points off the bench, per ESPN’s Marc J. Spears. “Honestly, if you asked me — we got LeBron, but I think he’s the best player in the world. He can do it on both ends; he can do it consistently every night.”
Adding injury to insult, Miami lost point guard Goran Dragic (foot) at halftime and center Bam Adebayo (shoulder) in the third quarter. Neither returned. Their status for Friday’s Game 2 is unclear. Jimmy Butler also twisted his ankle late in the second quarter but started the second half. It was as bad a night as the underdog Heat could have possibly imagined to open the championship series, but it did not start that way.
The Heat took a 13-point lead in the opening frame, playing Lakers center Dwight Howard off the floor with the effort and athleticism of Butler, Adebayo and Dragic — their three best players — but the Lakers closed the quarter on a 21-5 run and never looked back. As injuries hobbled Miami’s stars, the L.A. lead ballooned to 32 points in the third quarter. A late run against a Lakers contingent in cruise control cut the deficit to 13 with 2:31 remaining, but the damage was done, enough to cause Miami serious concern beyond Game 1.
Miami’s zone defense, which was so effective against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, was a disaster against the Lakers. When the zone spread, Davis owned the interior, and when it collapsed, L.A. made the Heat pay from the arc. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made back-to-back threes late in the first quarter, and the floodgates opened. Miami’s 25-12 lead disappeared in three minutes, and an Alex Caruso three with 4.2 seconds remaining in the opening frame gave the Lakers a 31-28 lead they did not relinquish.
“We’re much better than we showed tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelsta told reporters, putting a brave face on his team’s ugliest performance of the playoffs. “Credit to the Lakers, and we'll move on to the next one.”
Particularly damaging for Miami was the discrepancy in depth scoring. It took rookie Tyler Herro a team-high 18 shots to get his 14 points off the bench, and second-year starter Duncan Robinson finished scoreless on a trio of three-point attempts. They looked overmatched on the Finals stage, especially wild considering how confident Herro was growing with each passing playoff victory. The Heat were outscored by 35 points in Herro’s minutes, the worst plus-minus in a Finals game since 2000, according to StatMuse.
Meanwhile, the Lakers got double-digit scoring from Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Alex Caruso. They helped carry the load with Davis when James rested, slashing a 13-point deficit to five in his four first-quarter minutes on the bench. When Lakers coach Frank Vogel stole another few minutes for James in the second quarter, they pushed a six-point lead to 10. Miami has no chance if it cannot win those minutes.
“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler told reporters. “There's nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn't do. We didn't rebound, we didn't make them miss any shots, we didn't get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”
Butler added that his ankle felt “a little bit sore,” but “I think I'll be okay with some treatment. I'll get ready to go again. I think I got to be ready to go.” Same for Adebayo, who plans to play in Game 2, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. Their hobbled presence, combined with improved play from their young flamethrowers, should give the Heat a fighting chance to make this a respectable series before it is too late.
But Dragic suffered a plantar tear in his foot, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, though he has yet to be ruled out of the series, exiting the arena with barely a limp. The same cannot be said about his Heat as a whole.
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