The Lakers lost an embarrassing, 114-105 Game 3 to a Miami Heat team missing two of its best players, putting the NBA Finals at a 2-1 series score. Let’s dive in to what went wrong for the purple and gold.
The Lakers need more from LeBron and AD
LeBron James and Anthony Davis both had decent games. If you gave either of their box scores to say, Kyle Kuzma, we’ve be saying he had an excellent night.
But the Lakers need more from a duo that was willingly playing up Kobe and Shaq comparisons after the Lakers beat an understaffed Heat team in Game 2. James finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists, but coughed up the rock eight times, tied for his worst turnover night of the postseason. His defense also left something to be desired:
Here is LeBron handing off Butler to a worse defender on four of the night's biggest possessions -- two fouls, two makes, eight crucial points pic.twitter.com/3JoJYaZ6g8— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 5, 2020
Davis only took nine shots (tied for his second-lowest attempts of the playoffs) and scored 15 points. Foul trouble limited his ability to play in the first half, and some passiveness — other than a scorching third quarter stretch — mostly stopped him from making much of an impact offensively. Given that he was the Lakers’ lifeblood on offense in the first two games of the Finals, that was a problem.
The Heat also packed the paint to make life tough on the two stars at the rim, and James and Davis were all-too-happy to settle for jumpers instead of figuring out ways to play off each other to overtax Miami’s defense like they did in Game 2.
James and Davis have both individually probably had worst nights this postseason. James had a sub-par game or two against Denver, while Davis had a rough outing in Game 1 against Houston. But usually the other one has stepped up in those instances. In this game, neither superstar had a great night, and as much as the Lakers’ bench game them — more on that in a bit — they just aren’t going to win many games when that happens.
Davis and James both need to be better in Game 4. Or at least one of them does.
L.A., we (may) have a shooting guard problem
Frank Vogel admitted after Game 2 that he played J.R. Smith during meaningful minutes for the first time since the first round of the playoffs because Danny Green’s hip was bothering him, and because both Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope weren’t shooting the ball well (they finished the game a combined 3-19 from three).
That trend continued in Game 3, with Green (0-4 from deep) and Caldwell-Pope (1-3) continuing to lay bricks. Worse still, both of them were getting absolutely demolished one-on-one by Jimmy Butler (40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds), who barreled into the paint to draw fouls, finish through contact and just shoot over those two like they were folding chairs and he was Yi Jianlian during a draft workout.
Jimmy Butler pulled a Shaq on the Lakers. He scored 38 of his points in the paint or at the free throw line. Shaquille O'Neal is the only player to score more points in the paint or at the free throw line in a Finals game over the last 20 years according to @ESPNStatsInfo— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) October 5, 2020
Jimmy Butler is the first player to outscore, outrebound and out-assist LeBron James in a Finals game, including LeBron's teammates. Via Elias.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) October 5, 2020
Now, some of the credit for that goes to Butler, who played an exemplary game, and some of the blame for it goes to Frank Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff, who never sent help at Butler even when he was clearly trying to isolate and keep whoever was guarding him on an island.
But Caldwell-Pope and Green couldn’t get it done. Smith got run again despite not showing anything this whole postseason, and as you might expect, didn’t fare any better on Sunday. Markieff Morris was too slow, and Kyle Kuzma — who overall played well — was too slight, even if both tried hard. LeBron James probably fared best, but asking him to guard Butler the whole game is probably asking for trouble.
The real issue here, though, is that while it’s unlikely Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — both of whom are notoriously streaky — will continue to both give the Lakers absolutely nothing at the same time for the rest of this series, the Lakers don’t really have a better offensive answer if they do. Dion Waiters is coming off an injured groin and is even worse defensively, and Talen Horton-Tucker almost assuredly isn’t ready for this moment, as much as we all like the kid’s potential.
The Lakers don’t like to send help, but they can’t continue to tax Green and Caldwell-Pope’s energy defending post-ups and tiring them out on the other end, especially with Green already dealing with multiple injuries and Caldwell-Pope seeming to wear down as this one moved along. They need their legs under them to hit shots. L.A. may need to try and make Butler into a passer, because forcing him into tough shots one-on-one does not seem possible on a consistent basis given their personnel right now.
Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and the bench came to play
Credit where credit is due: On a night the Lakers’ stars didn’t have it, the bench came to play. Every single bench player was a plus in plus-minus, while every single Lakers starter was a negative, with LeBron James (-4) the only starter who wasn’t a double-digit negative.
The bench went off for 53 points combined, with Kuzma and Morris scoring 19 points apiece, both on 6-13 shooting. Part of that was the Heat packing the paint to limit James and Davis and forcing the Lakers’ role players to beat them, but Kuzma and Morris still deserve credit for stepping up to the plate. Alex Caruso was also excellent on defense, while Rajon Rondo made a few big plays to help the Lakers keep things close.
It wasn’t enough to get it done in the end, but on a day when some meaner-spirited “fans” created an online petition asking the Lakers to not give Kuzma a ring if the Lakers win a championship, Kuzma’s particularly spirited effort on both ends on a night when few Lakers were bringing it served as something of a karmic rebuke.
The Lakers definitely have some film to watch and learn from, but this was about as bad as they could play, health notwithstanding, and the shorthanded Heat deserve credit and respect for winning this game just as much as the Lakers lost it. As Kuzma said after the game, the Lakers pride themselves on not losing twice in a row very often, and they usually make great adjustments after a night like this. We’ll see if they can make this loss a one-off in this series just like they have with every defeat in their prior ones. If they can’t, all of a sudden this becomes a three-game showdown, with Miami getting healthier all the time.