Bam Adebayo woke up Friday morning listed as doubtful to play in Game 2 and so did his team’s chances of winning an NBA Championship.
The Los Angeles Lakers were already on the verge of finishing off Game 1 with a 20-plus point victory before the Miami Heat’s three best players all went down with some notable injury. Jimmy Butler twisted his ankle, Goran Dragic could miss the rest of the series, and Adebayo is now hoping he’ll be ready for Game 3. The former Wildcat was officially ruled out with a neck strain on Friday afternoon. One game is still one game, but that one game went about as poorly as the Heat could have predicted. Losing by 18 points isn’t the end of the world, but losing two of the team’s best three players might as well feel like it. In reality, an 18 point win isn’t even reflective of the actual events that took place. This was a beatdown of the tallest order.
So, where does Miami go from here?
The impact of losing Adebayo
Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined for 59 points in Game 1 and were generally unstoppable on the offensive end of the floor, which was only exacerbated once Adebayo left the court with a neck strain halfway through the third quarter. Davis, in particular, went on the prowl when he knew there wasn’t anyone fending off attackers at the rim. Without the defensive anchor holding down the ship in the paint, Miami was left vulnerable against the impressive size of the Lakers bigs. L.A. quickly showed that they can smash any small-ball Heat lineup that features Solomon Hill or Andre Iguodala at center into rubble. Kelly Olynyk or even Meyers Leonard will likely have an opportunity to fill in for Adebayo in that role. Olynyk received some clock late in Game 1 and that could continue into the first half of Game 2.
Not to mention, Miami now losses Adebayo’s passing touch and rebounding instincts. Olynyk and Leonard don’t bring a quarter of his playmaking abilities to the table. They certainly won’t be contending with Dwight Howard for loose rebounds. The Heat zone worked so well at times because they could rely on Adebayo to recover on defense and battle amongst the L.A. trees. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra rarely went to the zone in Game 1 anyways. Does he trust it without Adebayo, or even Dragic to a certain extent? Or should we expect more zone in hopes of trapping LeBron or Davis and making other Lakers’ players beat them? Without Adebayo, no option feels viable.
Let’s hope he’s healthy for Game 3.
Will Herro replace Dragic?
That’s only one half of the problem for Miami, though. The extended loss of Dragic presents a more pressing issue; he was the team’s second-leading scorer during the playoffs and the primary ball-handler. Does Kendrick Nunn make his return to the starting lineup despite his cold streak coming into the Finals and status as an unproven rookie? Will Tyler Herro assume those point guard duties as a rookie himself? Dragic and Adebayo had chemistry on offense that no one else on that roster can replicate. Herro can operate through the pick-and-roll, but he typically succeeding with Adebayo as the roller. Can he do the same with, say, Butler or Olynyk? The roles of both Nunn and Herro are going to boom in Game 2, there’s no doubt about that, and I’d bet Nunn gets the nod as the initial starter just for the fact that he played the part during the regular season.
Looking back on Game 1 and giving it a second watch, Herro didn’t actually play as poorly as his plus/minus wound up indicating (-35 in 30 minutes). A large chunk of that minus-35 was due to bad timing in his rotation and playing in lineups that didn’t feature Adebayo. When Herro and Duncan Robinson were both in the game for Miami at the same time, the Lakers offense could pick out mismatches, and the Miami defense suffered because of it.
Herro’s defense definitely left a sour taste, but when it came to scoring the ball, he was getting good looks, particularly in the first half. Herro’s night concluded with 14 points on a 6-18 shooting clip, mostly off of misses that he has made in previous games this postseason. The Lakers didn’t do anything special to try and knock him off his rhythm as I had initially thought, he simply missed good looks. While I think Nunn begins the night as the Miami starting point guard, Herro should be the man to replace him down the stretch as he has all postseason long. But then the issue once again becomes his defense. While Dragic isn’t a stalwart on that end to begin with, Herro was being constantly sought after by L.A. ball handlers. Normally, he has Adebayo looming behind him in case he gets beat. He won’t have that benefit in Game 2.
Let me briefly take you back to the closing 2:30 of the first half of Game 1.
On three of the Lakers’ final four offensive possessions heading into the half, Herro was directly targeted in the half-court setting, twice by LeBron James and another by Kyle Kuzma. All three possessions led to points for L.A. The Lakers would locate Herro on defense, force a switch with whoever he was guarding, and attack him running downhill. Miami loves to switch everything, and Herro has been a liability in that gameplan. There were moments as the defender on Rajon Rondo that Herro battled through screens; I would like to see more of that than him getting picked on every time down the floor.
Jimmy Butler takeover
It would easy to call this series over with, and I won’t blame you for thinking that way, but I’m going to at least give Jimmy Butler the benefit of the doubt for one game. No Dragic, no Adebayo, just Jimmy. He’s said he expects to win Game 2 even without his co-stars, but it’s going to take an all-out effort and a lot of luck. Butler understands that he has to play more aggressively in Game 2 and I would expect him to come out searching for shots as he did in the early stages of Game 1, when Miami was actually playing well. He’s just going to have to do that for a full 48 minutes.
If his ankle can hold up, the thought of a pissed off Jimmy Butler fighting for his playoff life makes me excited. That version of Butler hasn’t been necessary to this degree, until now. If he can put some pressure on the Lakers back line and open up his shooters, Miami will have a chance, they just can’t shoot 11-35 from deep two games in a row. Butler registered 23 points in Game 1 but only attempted 13 shots and five free-throws. He needs to double those numbers Friday night.
Anthony Davis: Finals MVP?
Following a 34-point, 9-rebound, 5-assist outing in Game 1, Anthony Davis positioned himself perfectly to eventually take home Finals MVP honors. While his teammate LeBron James posted an equally respectable 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists, Davis is set up for continued success. The absence of Adebayo will open up an entire area of the floor that was previously under constant patrol. Davis has loved his mid-range jumper during the playoffs but should now have zero issues getting to the rim in Game 2 if he so chooses. Another 30-point showing feels inevitable. I wouldn’t shy away from saying he goes for 40.
He even gave us a taste of what’s to come. With Adebayo off the court in Game 1, Davis was sprinting up the court every time he knew a rebound wasn’t his, particularly if someone such like LeBron or Rondo corralled it. Immediately, Davis would back down the nearest Heat defender in the paint, clearing out space and begging for a pass to his outstretched arm. On several possessions, the Lakers scored straight out of this heads-up action. Before Miami could establish its defense, Davis had a mismatch less than 10-feet from the basket and the rest of the defense ball-watching from halfcourt.
Prediction: Lakers go up 2-0
I don’t believe I’ll be alone in this prediction. Without Dragic or Adebayo and a banged-up Butler, all of the momentum is trending towards the Lakers. Aside from the first six or so minutes of Game 1, they were locked in on both ends of the court. I’m going to keep an extra eye on Herro throughout and I would advise you do the same. Davis is going to have a monster night, but it’ll be the response of Herro after a poor Game 1 that I’ll be interested in, especially if he winds up as the starter.