For the first time in these NBA Finals, the series veered towards what most thought it would look like – a tough battle between a tenacious team facing off against a team stacked with talent. The consensus was that the matches would be close but eventually the Lakers’ superior talent would shine through and that’s exactly what happened last night. The Lakers are now one game away from winning the 2020 NBA Championship, after a 102-96 win over the Miami Heat in the Disney World bubble at Orlando, yesterday.
Quality at the top
Five turnovers, eight points in the first two quarters – LeBron James seemed out of touch initially, regularly getting frustrated by Miami’s stubborn defence compelling him to pass over players’ heads and forcing turnovers. But James turned it around in the third and fourth quarters, attacking the rim and regularly going to the free throw line (10-12 for the night). He finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists and only one more turnover in the second half. The finishing touches to the Lakers was provided by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Anthony Davis with some clutch shots at the end.
But it was the difference in quality between the shots Miami and the Lakers took late in the game that changed the matchup. The Lakers had a defensive answer for every pick and roll the Heat could muster. There was no combination where the Heat were able to get open looks. The Lakers on the other hand, had enough quality in their ranks to force Miami to leave men open at certain plays and then had the composure to knock down those shots, especially late in the game.
Davis becomes aggressive
A critique of Davis’ Game 3 performance was that he wasn’t aggressive enough. A lot of that was based on him being in foul trouble, something Miami didn’t exploit enough this game. Davis finished Game 4 with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks and a steal – an all-round performance where he took on the task of defending Miami’s main threat in Jimmy Butler at the game’s most crucial junctures. The Lakers have a record of 56-0 this season when they’re leading at the end of the 3rd quarter and a large part of why that was maintained was Davis’ play on both ends of the floor to complement LeBron’s, helping the Western Conference champions to a 3-1 lead.
Butler needs to be a scorer
As things stand, the Heat are in trouble. Only one team in the history of the NBA has come from 3-1 in the Finals to win the championship and unfortunately for Miami, the man who did that is on the opposite end of the court. In Game 3 Jimmy Butler made history with his 40-point triple double and outdid James in most metrics. But in Game 4, Butler was passive and keen on that one extra pass that could generate an open look. The look never came and when it did, Miami’s players never capitalised. Game 5 needs to see Butler become a scorer first and a provider later. Him driving to the basket and shooting from the line has to be the focus of Heat’s offense in Game 5.
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