The Los Angeles Lakers threw the first punch in this year’s NBA Finals, beating the Heat 116-98 in Game 1. This is the first Game 1 victory the Lakers have secured this postseason, but we will have to wait and see if this early blow was the decisive haymaker.
The Heat came out shooting the ball with phenomenal accuracy early in the game, building up a 13-point lead. After the initial Game 1 jitters wore off halfway through the first quarter, it was all Lakers from there as they outscored the Heat by 45 points in the following 22 minutes of play. The Heat had no answer for Anthony Davis or LeBron James in what looked like a serious mismatch of size. The Lakers led in nearly every statistical category including the number of possessions, offensive rating, effective field goal percentage, assists, blocks, rebounding and made free throws. Additionally, the Lakers bench and role players stepped up big time, hitting their stride from long range and creating a wave of momentum for them going into Game 2.
Here are four brief takeaways from the blowout:
First, I was very sad to see the injuries to Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Injuries are the worst part of sports because they take away from the beautiful display of competition. The great ones understand that while you want to beat every opponent you face, you also want them to be at their best so they have no excuses when you succeed. I sincerely hope they are not compromised for the rest of the series, but it looks like Dragic is out for the long run with a plantar tear in his left foot, and Bam has reaggravated his left shoulder injury. Both players are too important for the Heat to have a chance at making this matchup a series.
Second, the Miami Heat have got to find a way to play physically. Whether it’s boxing out more effectively, attacking the glass on the offensive end, or just setting better screens, the Heat have got to be able to match up with the Lakers physically. Increasing the pace of the game may also help with this, but the Lakers are also a scary team on the fastbreak.
Can the Lakers bench and role players keep up shooting this way from three-point range? The Lakers look unbeatable when they shoot 39.5% from three. Especially when they shoot with that accuracy this postseason. Unlike the Celtics in the last round, the Lakers are able to play with five players on the perimeter, which nullifies the Heat’s 2-3 zone. This forces more defensive switches, tires out Heat guys playing heavy minutes in coach Erik Spoelstra’s shorter finals rotation and opens up the paint for offensive rebounding. The Heat have an athleticism deficit in comparison to the Lakers and have got to come up with a way to circumvent that with savvy play and great marksmanship on the offensive end of the floor. If LeBron and Davis are allowed to dictate the pace of the game and rest for extended minutes as they did in Game 1, the 2020 NBA bubble season could end in an anti-climactic sweep or—gentleman’s sweep at best.
Lastly, one of the few rays of hope for the Heat in Game 1 was the standout play of All-Rookie first-team guard Kendrick Nunn who scored 18 points in just over 20 minutes of play on eight out of 11 shooting. He was the Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference for the first three months of the NBA season and started for the majority of the regular season. Dragic was named the starter come playoff time due to Nunn contracting COVID-19. With his ability to generate instant offense, maybe this spark of energy could be the catalyst needed to see a resurgent effort from the Heat in Game 2.
The Heat have never trailed in any series up until the finals this postseason, but have shown a great ability to embrace their role as the underdog. The cards seem stacked against the Heat, but you can never underestimate a team with the heart they have shown thus far.