No Adebayo, no Dragic, a ton of worries.
The Miami Heat are likely to be without two of its three best players, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, for the second consecutive game when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Both are currently listed as “doubtful” and neither played in a Game 2 showing for Miami that was actually more impressive than its disappointing Game 1 blowout. Without their defensive anchor holding down the paint, the Heat leaned heavily on a zone defense approach that did everything it could to limit the scoring prowess of Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Miami’s offense was two steps up from Game 1, but the defense was bleeding points all night long, particularly during the second and third quarters. The Lakers never ran away with the game as they did in the first meeting, but always had an answer for every Heat bucket.
Miami still isn’t dead in the water quite yet, but they’re one game away from falling into a 3-0 hole that no NBA team has ever been able to overcome. Even more production from reserve centers Meyers Leonard (seven points in Game 2) and Kelly Olynyk (24 points) along with rookie Kendrick Nunn (13 points) will be critical without Adebayo and Dragic. Odds are high that Tyler Herro will receive his second straight start at point guard for Miami, and even though he posted 17 points in Game 2, there was much more he could have done. If Miami elects to abandon the zone, Herro will have even more responsibility.
Here are some of my thoughts on Game 3.
Back to the zone?
After watching the Lakers explode for 124 points while making over 50 percent of its overall shots and attempting more 3-pointers than any other Finals team in league history, the zone might have run its course. Miami didn’t even use it all that much in Game 1 and L.A. abused them no matter what defense was in their way. Without Adebayo, it means whoever defends Anthony Davis will be at an obvious disadvantage, whether it’s Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler, or especially one of Leonard and Olynyk. The zone helps mitigate Davis’ effectiveness in a one-on-one setting, but he was arguably more dangerous working against the zone.
Davis had no issue sneaking in for offensive rebounds, as Miami was lucky to have one player on the floor who could attempt to box him out. He rebounded over 18 percent of the Lakers’ overall misses, according to Cleaning the Glass, an insane figure, and over half of his 15 made buckets came directly at the rim. If it wasn’t Davis, it was LeBron or Rondo who were plopped right at the nail, waiting to receive a pass, quickly turn around, and make a play at the rim. If the Heat decides to roll with a man-to-man look, they can at least body up Davis at all times and try to keep him off the glass; a tall order for any team. With Adebayo on the sideline, Davis is likely going to get 30-plus points regardless of what defense is thrown at him.
Rondo has actually played his best basketball of this series against the zone defense. Whether he was at the free-throw line or at the top of the key running the offense, he was calm and collected in a half-court setting. If the Lakers were able to successfully work around two or three passes in quick succession, Rondo would finish off the play with perfectly-placed passes along the baseline behind the Miami zone backline. If he’s shooting 3-4 from beyond the arc, as well, as he did in Game 2, Rondo becomes a lethal zone dissector.
Miami’s offense putting in work
The downgrade on defense was expected from Miami after an All-NBA Defensive Team performer went out of the lineup, while questions about how the offense might execute were valid. Adebayo was the central hub, acting almost as a Nikola Jokic-esque point center who ran the offense from the high post. The Heat would run shooters off of Adebayo, roll him to the rim, and let his passing abilities take over. The offense needed to come from somewhere else during Game 3 in his absence and a handful fof Miami players stepped up.
I would still like to see more from Jimmy Butler–even though he dropped 25 points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 2. He only fired up 17 shot attempts and played more pass-first than score-first for key chunks of the game. Butler is the only player that the Lakers will struggle to guard. The more he attacks, the more it’ll open up opportunities for shooters. He also appears to be the only person in the world who legitimately believes this team will win.
“We’re never giving up,” Butler said, according to NBA.com. “We’re going to fight, and we’re going to ride with this thing ’til the wheels fall off. It’s not over. We’re just down 0-2; we got to do something special.”
The one “upside” for Miami losing Adebayo is that both of his replacements are better shooters than he is. Olynyk (3-7) and Leonard (1-1) combined to shoot 4-8 from beyond the arc in Game 2 and they’ll surely have those same looks again in Game 3 if they continue to spread themselves out and Butler (and even Kendrick Nunn) attacks the rim. Miami shot an incredible 31-34 mark from the charity stripe; they had no issue getting into the paint. Getting to the rim at will opens up the perimeter. Olynyk got a bit ahead of himself at times on offense, as did sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, but he played an effective game for Miami keeping himself spaced out and ready to catch and shoot.
More production from Herro
The former Wildcat had spurts of brilliance in Game 2 and then long stretches of ineffectiveness. He still managed 17 points as the youngest player to ever start an NBA Finals game, but Herro’s defense was once again less-than-ideal and he disappeared on offense more often I would like. He played a career-high 42 minutes in Game 2 and will likely find the court for a similar amount of time in Game 3. Realistically, Miami doesn’t have any other options.
“We know our backs are against the wall. We have to fight.” pic.twitter.com/Gha6VaiHeg
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) October 4, 2020
The Lakers have done an overall excellent job of chasing Robinson and Herro–Miami’s two premier shooters–around the perimeter and making life difficult. Robinson, in particular, is just 2-10 from deep through two Finals games while Herro is 3-11. When those two are hitting, the lane opens up for Butler in the same way his penetration opens up outside shots. The Heat still shot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in Game 2 despite Robinson scoring just nine points. Imagine if those two can get rolling and force Anthony Davis to cheat up out of the paint just a foot or two on defense; they can create a whole new layer of offense.
I’m not necessarily asking for another 37-point explosion from Herro, but shooting 5-12 as the team’s second-best scorer right now will not get it done. We’ve been praising his confidence ever since the playoffs began; now is not the time for him to shy away. Popping off for 20 points in Game 3 would give Miami an extra push they’ll desperately need. I want 20 shots from Herro.
Prediction: Lakers move one game away from the ‘Ship
If Adebayo, or even Dragic, were playing, I would talk myself into Miami stealing a game. But Davis and LeBron are playing at entirely different levels of skill right now. The Heat might be able to slow one of them down, but it’s been impossible thus far to stop them both. I do expect another competitive contest as we saw in Game 2, however, I also expect the Lakers to lead for close to double-digits for the majority of the evening. Let’s just hope Adebayo can be ready to go for Game 4 (and maybe beyond).
Game 3 is Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. EST on ABC.