Anthony Davis is still a matchup nightmare.
One reason to have some concern about the Lakers heading into this series — and I was not immune from this worry — was that the Heat finally had a player in Bam Adebayo who could contain Anthony Davis, the first such defender the Lakers would have seen in these playoffs.
Through one game, that concern does not appear warranted. Adebayo, and Jae Crowder on occasion, proved just as helpless as every other man who has been thrown in front of the Brow this postseason.
Davis was a menace in Game 1. He knocked down shots over the smaller Crowder, hitting two threes and two more midrange jumpers. He set up shots in the paint through post-ups, drives, and off-ball cuts. He took 10 shots at the rim and earned 10 free throws, which he hit all of. He calmly navigated double teams, swinging the ball out to open shooters, particularly in the first half when the Lakers shot 11-of-17 from the 3-point line. He battled on the offensive glass when Miami elected to play small.
Davis also ran the floor hard in transition. It didn’t always result in fast-break points for himself, but he drew so much attention on his rim runs to free up other Lakers. Look at how many Heat players are in the paint on this play to corral Davis in transition, allowing Alex Caruso to easily attack the closeout for a layup.
Davis also shined on the defensive end. After a rough start when the Lakers seemed a step slow on all of Miami’s actions, Davis took command of the lane. He was only credited with three blocks, but he affected a number of shots at the rim with his verticality, and he visibly deterred the Heat from driving on multiple occasions. Shifting Davis to center allowed the Lakers to switch on defense, which snuffed out much of Miami’s ball movement, and also resulted in Davis closing out on the Heat’s shooters, an objectively terrifying sight.
This is Davis simply doing his job on defense, rotating, closing out, and making life just a little bit harder for everyone on Miami.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the spark at the start.
Davis was the best player on the floor Wednesday, but with his team down 13 early, he credited a different Laker for triggering the comeback. In the postgame interview with Rachel Nichols, Davis said, “KCP saved us.”
Caldwell-Pope finished the game with 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting, numbers that don’t exactly jump off the page. In the first quarter, though, KCP was the lone Laker to bring energy to an otherwise lethargic performance. He drove to the basket to create a Danny Green corner three on the second possession. He scored on his own on another foray to the basket to even the game at 10 and would have had two more points had Davis not goaltended the finish.
Finally, when the Heat appeared to be taking control, Caldwell-Pope hit back-to-back 3-pointers to to close the gap to 25-18 and force a Miami timeout.
Or, as Magic so astutely put it on Twitter:
When the @Lakers went down 13 in the first quarter it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who turned it around for the team, scoring 10 points in the quarter.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) October 1, 2020
The Lakers had only faced a double-digit first-half deficit once in the playoffs, back in the postseason opener against Portland, a game that the Lakers lost. This game could have gotten out of hand early, but those two KCP 3-pointers gave the Lakers life, a fitting contribution from a player whose energy is the hallmark of his game.
The Lakers overwhelmed the Heat physically.
It seemed like the story of the nigh might be the Lakers’ hot shooting. They hit 11 threes in the first half, equal to their per-game average in the playoffs, and made 15 overall to outscore Miami by 12 from distance. But the Lakers also missed 13 threes in a row during one stretch. But the shooting will come and go, because the Lakers can exert their dominance elsewhere.
The Lakers did that on Wednesday by once again imposing their will on their opponents with their size. Dwight Howard took some time find his footing, but the frontcourt of Davis, LeBron James, and Markieff Morris was still far too big for the Heat. They out-rebounded Miami 64-40, and earned 27 free throws to 14 for the Heat. Their arms were all over the passing lanes and in front of the hoop, resulting in Miami taking only 30% of their shots at the rim. Comparatively, the Heat took 33% of their shots in the midrange, where the Lakers were still able to affect their looks.
Miami isn’t really thought of as a small-ball team, but they have one player taller than 6’7 in their starting lineup (Adebayo), and start 6’6 Crowder at power forward. They only unleashed 6’11 Olynyk when the game was mostly out of reach. A similarly small team in the Rockets was thoroughly bullied by the Lakers earlier this postseason.
The Heat will adapt, and the Lakers’ hot shooting streak combined with untimely injuries for Miami made the margin of this game larger than the actual gap between the two teams. But the Lakers still set a high bar for this series, one that will be difficult for the diminutive Heat to reach unless they make some meaningful changes.