Welcome to another potential series-clinching preview of the NBA Finals!
To quickly update you, the Miami Heat were energized by a jacked-up Jimmy Butler, who posted another triple-double in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, bringing the series to a 3-2 L.A. lead. The Lakers will look to finish off Miami in its second attempt later on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. on ABC, but momentum is in favor of the Heat sidelines.
Injuries are beginning to mount up as we’ve surpassed the 100-day mark inside the Orlando Bubble. Players are running on reserve energy. Game 6 should make for another classic and there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on. As always, we’ve got you covered from the Kentucky Wildcat perspective. Here’s what you need to know heading into Game 6.
Keeping an eye on AD’s heel
At the time this article was posted, Anthony Davis was listed as probable for Game 6 following the reaggravation of a prior heel contusion. He initially suffered the injury back in the Western Conference Finals and has been on the injury report ever since, but never actually sat out a game. During the first quarter of Friday’s Game 6, Davis came down awkwardly on his foot and immediately began to writhe in pain, being extra careful not to put any pressure on it before exiting the game. He would later return in the early stages of the second quarter, but in the latter stages of the night, was struggling just to jog up and down the court. Davis is expected to play on Sunday, but it’s a situation that will be heavily monitored by the medical staff (and the viewing public).
Davis’ injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, either. The Lakers broke out the theatrics for a potential close-out game, switching to the all-black “Black Mamba” jerseys (they were 4-0 while wearing them during the playoffs before Friday’s loss) with Davis rocking gold shoes, matching the color of the Larry O’Brien trophy that was seated not far from the floor. The Lakers reportedly had their celebration dinner already planned for after the game. L.A. did everything they needed to do before the opening tip, but forgot that they had to win in order to make it all come true. Now, the Lakers have their backs against the wall coming off of a heartbreaking Game 5 loss that they could have easily taken and Davis clearly not 100 percent.
As brilliant as LeBron James has been in this series and especially in Game 5 (40 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists), the Lakers will need Davis to close this series out. The former Wildcat still managed to contribute 28 points and 12 rebounds while playing on one ankle. It’s a similar situation to the one that Miami was in when Bam Adebayo sat out Games 2 and 3 before returning in Game 4; 75 percent of Adebayo is better than 100 percent of Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard, just like 75 percent of Davis is better than 100 percent of Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee.
The biggest question will be if Davis can make it to 75 percent.
Also, for those wondering, Davis will not be punished for this swipe of the face at Jae Crowder.
Intentional or accident?
The NBA is being called upon to review and possibly suspend Lakers star Anthony Davis for this hit to the face of Heat forward Jae Crowder. pic.twitter.com/K2yChWkRZf
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) October 10, 2020
Need more Bam
Speaking of Adebayo’s health, the neck strain that kept him out earlier in the series doesn’t appear to be bothering him too much, but it’s also been clear that he’s not playing up to his expected standards. Even he admits that stepping up in Game 6 is a necessity as opposed to a luxury.
“My whole mindset is I have to be better for Jimmy [Butler] and for my team,” Adebayo said, according to Ramona Shelburne.
The one-time ‘Cat is averaging a mere 14 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists over the last two outings, well below his postseason averages. He was the best player on the floor against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals but has become a shell of himself following the untimely injury. With that being said, Jimmy Butler made up for Adebayo’s absent play to the tune of 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists for his second triple-double of the Finals (both Heat victories). But Butler also played 47 minutes and 12 seconds of Game 5 and was visibly gassed before the final buzzer sounded. He’s proven twice in the last four games that he can will Miami to a win by himself, but it sure would be helpful if Adebayo was able to take advantage of a hampered Anthony Davis going forward.
Adebayo has typically been starting games off guarded by Dwight Howard and eventually someone slightly smaller, mainly Markieff Morris and LeBron James, as the night would drag along. For the most part, the Lakers have kept Davis off of Adebayo and on Jimmy Butler, likely to avoid ticky-tack post fouls while also allowing Davis to switch any action between Butler and Adebayo that could create points for Miami.
Howard is a beefy matchup inside, but not nearly quick enough to keep up with Adebayo. Morris is absolutely no contest for Adebayo and he was targeted more than once during Game 4 when Adebayo had the ball in his hands. LeBron is probably L.A.’s best option on Adebayo, but will they continue to roll with that if Butler gets hot early? Davis has had the task of defending Butler and his now re-injured heel might not be the best option. If LeBron or Morris switches on Butler, Adebayo will have a mismatch. We need more pick-and-rolls from him, linking up with Butler and Tyler Herro. Duncan Robinson was a mad-man coming off of screens in Game 5, pouring in 26 points on seven made triples, but only two of them came via an Adebayo assist. When Adebayo is more involved in this action, he can better manipulate the defense, mixing in fake hand-offs for drives to the rim or locating another Heat player cutting away from the play. Robinson making that shot with Adebayo as the distributor opens up more areas of the floor for both them and their teammates.
Over the last two games, Adebayo has attempted 79 percent of his shots at the rim but is converting them at a clip of just 56 percent. He’s actually hit half of his mid-range jumpers, but those have only made up 21 percent of his shots in that span (all stats via Cleaning the Glass). His assist rate has plummeted and his overall inclusion in the offense has seen a dip, too. All of that can be ignored if he improves in Game 6. His movement on the defensive end of the floor hasn’t been an issue from what I’ve seen. Adebayo needs to demand the ball and take more of the offensive pressure off Butler.
Judging by his own words, Adebayo should have a much-improved outing Sunday night.
A repeat performance out of Tyler Herro
Tyler Herro has hardly been the same scoring savvy Bucket-getter who handed it to the Boston Celtics in the previous round. Despite playing arguably his best outing of the Finals in Game 5, his shooting splits for the series stand at 37.7/35.7/81.3 (compared to splits of 46.3/37.8/89.5 in the three rounds prior). The Lakers have had his number since the opening night, making it a point to try and take him out of the game early and often. Herro hadn’t dealt with that level of pressure before and it forced him into a playstyle that was too rushed for his liking. He wasn’t perfect in Game 5, shooting 4-11, but it was the quality of those shots that should keep up all optimistic he can catch fire in Game 6.
Herro’s drives were much more calculated, even if they didn’t always end in points. Not a single one of missed shots would be considered “bad”. All three of his assists came as a result of him running the offense; a beautiful pick-and-roll lob to Adebayo, an even prettier bounce pass to Butler that also came out of the pick-and-roll, and a cross-court pass to Jae Crowder for an open triple. His defense is what it is right now, but Herro looked like the impact player on offense that Miami had been used to.
Kendrick Nunn snuck in and stole some of Herro’s minutes in Game 5, with the former playing well in a heightened role (14 points in 27 minutes). Herro’s 30 minutes were his fewest since Game 1 of the Finals and just the fifth time this postseason playing under 31 minutes. If Nunn gets going again early, Herro might find himself splitting even more time. If that were to be the case, he’ll have to take advantage and make the open shots he’s been missing.
Prediction: Miami forces a Game 7
Why not go nuts with it? The Bubble has already shown us to expect the unexpected, and there wouldn’t be anything more unprecedented than this Heat team battling back to tie the series after being down 3-1. Butler will have to be brilliant once again, probably playing another 47 minutes, but if Adebayo and Herro can step up and make big plays, Miami’s opportunity to stay alive will present itself.