It’s do-or-die time for the Miami Heat.
Later on Friday night at 9:00 p.m. (ABC), the Los Angeles Lakers will look to close out the Heat in Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals. L.A. leads the series 3-1, coming off a 102-96 victory in Game 4 despite the return of Bam Adebayo. The Kentucky big man is expected back in the lineup for Game 5 and should be ready to finish out the Bubble for Miami.
The Lakers elevated its game to a new level in Game 4 following an all-time performance from Miami’s Jimmy Butler in Game 3, who exploded for a 40-point triple-double in his team’s only win of the series thus far. Adebayo missed the second of his two games due to a neck strain in Game 3, but Anthony Davis never took full advantage of an exposed Heat backline. He played far better in Game 4, particularly on the defensive end, although his offense still hasn’t looked the same ever since Miami abandoned the zone defense heading into Game 3. Davis’ 22 points were more than enough to put L.A. just one win away from the franchise’s 17th championship, but he’ll need an impressive all-around effort in Game 5 if he wants to yank the Finals MVP award away from his teammate, LeBron James.
The oddest NBA season in history could very well be over by the time Friday ends. If so, it’s been a pleasure keeping you all updated on the happenings of the BBNBA. By the looks of the landscape of the league, Kentucky’s connection to the NBA won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Hopefully, Miami can extend this thing by another game or two. We’ll be back soon regardless
Anyways, here are my thoughts ahead of a critical Game 5.
Need more from a healthy Bam
Bam Adebayo missed Games 2 and 3 after suffering a neck strain in Game 1 that sent back him to the locker room. Had the Miami training staff not forced him to sit out, he likely would have made his return in Game 3. But, for precautionary reasons, he observed from the sideline. After watching him play 33 minutes in Game 4, I’m convinced Adebayo could participate in all 48 later on Friday, especially with the extra day of rest in between Tuesday night’s game.
While 48 minutes is a bit of an exaggeration, he should definitely reach 38 minutes for a potentially championship-deciding affair. Adebayo posted 15 points on 6-8 shooting in Game 4 to go along with seven rebounds. He didn’t at all appeared bothered by his injury, even opening up the game with a ferocious dunk for Miami’s first bucket. However, he went the majority of the night playing out of sync.
Adebayo only registered one assist in Game 4, turned the ball over three times, and recorded four personal fouls while attempting eight field goal shots and just five three-throws. The only successful spurt he played was a stint against Lakers’ forward Markieff Morris (with Anthony Davis on the bench). Adebayo scored seven of his points in the second quarter, all directly off of attacking Morris. The Heat need that version of Adebayo for an entire game. Granted, Davis’ absence at this time provided more room for Adebayo to operate on offense, but the Lakers only played Dwight Howard for eight minutes in Game 4 and elected to roll with Morris instead–he is absolutely no match when it comes to defending Adebayo, and a few-minute stretch in Game 4 showed that. There are open lanes in the Lakers’ defense that Adebayo can sneak through.
Even if he isn’t the one trying to score every trip down the court, Adebayo needs to get more involved. One assist is damn-near inexcusable for him. He creates too many potential scoring plays with his vision. His gravity alone as a lob threat opens up other opportunities for his teammates. Watch him unintentionally drag Kyle Kuzma down to the block, freeing open Andre Iguodala for a clean look from deep.
Adebayo needs to be included more often on offense; simple as that.
L.A. didn’t even have Davis defend Adebayo; he guarded Butler for most of the night while switching everything in order to keep Adebayo from creating mismatches through high-post screens. If Davis isn’t going to size up Adebayo one-on-one, the latter has to attack more often. Eight shot attempts are not nearly enough for Adebayo. Butler disappeared after an excellent first quarter and, without Goran Dragic, Miami doesn’t have anyone else to turn to. We still haven’t seen what Adebayo can do in this series when he’s consistently attacking. There’s no better time to show up than Game 5.
Davis’ defense upstaging his offense
Ever since Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra went away from the zone defense starting around Game 3, Anthony Davis has struggled to find his offensive momentum.
Easily his worst night of the series came in Game 3 against mostly a man-to-man look from Miami. Davis only scored 15 points on nine shot attempts and played just 32 minutes, dealing with foul trouble throughout the game. But even when he was on the floor, he never looked comfortable.
Not much changed in Game 4, aside from fewer fouls. Most concerningly, Davis has combined to shoot just seven free-throws over the last three outings after getting to the line 10 times in Game 1. He would seemingly rather chuck up a contested 16-footer than attack his defender head-on. On the surface, his numbers have been incredibly efficient, but underneath is a lower than expected volume over the last two games. However, when Davis is playing defense at the level he is right now, everything on the other end is an added bonus.
Davis has been the best defensive player in the series and it hasn’t been close after Adebayo missed two games. Game 4 was his best showing on that end of the Finals, as he swatted away four shots, largely guarded Butler on defense, and was a deterrent at the rim from the moment he stepped on the court. The Lakers allowed Butler to do whatever he wanted in the first quarter of Game 4, letting Davis easily switch off of him, which Butler swiftly turned into 11 points on 5-5 shooting. Butler was abusing the pick-and-roll switches, hunting out Kyle Kuzma then going right at him. But from the second quarter on, Davis (with aid from LeBron and the Lakers’ help defense) completely shut him down; Butler went 3-12 from the floor to finish the game. The paint was locked up and Davis wasn’t letting anyone inside.
Through Miami’s first three Finals games, they managed 46, 46, and 52 points in the paint, respectively. Coming into the series, L.A. only allowed 40.8 points in the paint per game during the postseason. With Davis holding down the fort, the Lakers gave up just 32 points in the paint from Miami in Game 4. Butler would hardly look at the rim in the second-half after Davis altered two of his shots at the rim. Adebayo learned the hard way not to test Davis.
That’s a winning play by Davis, and he was doing this regularly in Game 4. A repeat performance in Game 5 would surely put Miami away for good. He might not wind up winning Finals MVP, but Davis’ fingerprints have been all over this series and none more so than on defense.
The struggles of Tyler Herro and Rajon Rondo
The breakout performance from Tyler Herro beginning with the NBA’s Restart has been a spectacular peek into his future potential and the return of Rajon “Playoff” Rondo beginning with the Western Conference Semifinals has made for some highlight lobs and hilarious memes, but we need to be truthful here: neither have played well in the Finals.
Herro, in particular, has gone from slithering through defenses and drawing comparisons to Devin Booker, to running around aimlessly on the court with the shot-profile of an 18-year old Archie Goodwin (sorry you had to catch the stray on that one, Archie). Herro is making under 38 percent of his overall shots through four Finals games and just 32 percent from beyond the arc. His shot attempts have gone from within the flow of the offense to sprinting with his head down into the lane before firing up a sky-scraping floater. According to the NBA’s tracking data, Herro is just 4-14 in this series on shots defined as “wide-open”, or when a defender is at least six feet away from the shooter. He’s on the floor in the first place because he’d been making those open shots.
Occasionally he’ll connect on a shot that has no earthly business going in, but it shouldn’t mask the two or three similar head-scratching looks that would normally earn him a spot on the bench were this the regular season. Difficult shot-making is part of Herro’s allure, but when his defense has been as poor as it has been during the playoffs and his shooting percentage begins to plummet, he becomes a net-negative for Miami. He was a minus-13 in Game 4 in 37 minutes.
Rondo’s impact on the game has warned, as well. He actually played quite well in Games 1 and 2 against the L.A. zone but has struggled to find any rhythm on offense against man-to-man. Rondo shot a combined 3-15 in the last two outings compared to 7-16 in the first two. Those open 3s he was canning against the Miami zone? They’ve disappeared. Those backdoor lobs he was easily tossing up against the holes in the zone? All clogged up. He’s still been able to make an impact through his passing when the offense is up-tempo and by crashing the offensive glass, but half-court settings have not done him any favors. He missed multiple layups right at the rim. It’s not even worth getting into his individual defensive effort. At this point, Alex Caruso is the superior shooter, defender, and probably overall player.
Prediction: Lakers wrap up the Bubble
I called Lakers in five from the jump and I’m sticking with it. Barring a 50-point triple-double (coupled with a pitiful outing from LeBron), Anthony Davis likely won’t win Finals MVP unless this series can find a way to go six or seven games. LeBron has the award all but won, in my opinion, and I don’t foresee him letting up with a close-out game on the line.
The Lakers have been taking at better care of the ball late in games and shooting well from beyond the arc. If those two areas flip flop in Game 5, Miami might have a chance, but they need much more aggressive efforts from Adebayo and Butler. This far into the series, it just feels like the Lakers are noticeably better. Both sides have each other figured out; one side just happens to have two of the league’s top five players. That usually puts a team over the top.
I’ll end the post with this: Anthony Davis is one win away from becoming an NBA Champion. That’s pretty cool to say out loud.