After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the series somehow already felt like it was over. The Miami Heat got out to an early 23-10 lead in the first quarter, but were quickly overthrown by the more star-studded Lakers team, eventually losing 116-98. Heading into the weekend without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, who both got hurt in the opening game, no one expected much from this Heat team, but here we are three days later with a 2-1 series that might just go the distance.
The Lakers picked up right where they left off in Game 2, with LeBron, Anthony Davis and even playoff Rajan Rondo coming up big in a 124-114 victory. Adebayo’s absence was felt from the start — particularly on the defensive end — as his backups Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard are much better known for their offensive game. With the big man out, the Lakers had their way in the paint, outscoring the Heat 56-46 inside and racking up 16 offensive rebounds. LeBron and AD once again showed why they are considered the best duo in the NBA, combining for 65 points, with AD adding 14 rebounds and LeBron flirting with another triple double.
The Heat put together a solid game, hitting the 50-40-90 mark as a team and moving the ball effectively through Jimmy Butler. Without two of his biggest weapons and ball handlers, Butler played a relatively passive role, scoring 25 points on just 7-17 shooting, but piling on a playoff-best 13 assists. Other contributors on the offensive end were Olynyk and Tyler Herro, who chipped in 24 and 17 points respectively.
In the end it was clear the Lakers were simply the better team, as they led by more than 10 more often than not throughout this game. And when the announcement came out that Dragic and Adebayo would miss Game 3 as well, the outlook was bleak for Miami and their fans.
Enter Jimmy Butler, who after taking on a less aggressive role in Game 2 completely took over in the most important game of his career to date.
Much like in Game 1, the Heat got off to an early 13-point lead. Also similarly to Game 1, the Lakers had it down to three by the end of the first. The second and third quarters were as close as the two teams have played and heading into the fourth Miami held just a five-point lead.
The Heat got off to a quick start in the fourth, opening up a double digit lead, but LeBron and AD wouldn’t give up getting the game within two or three points on multiple occasions. What kept them from getting over the hump and taking the lead? Butler. Jimmy Buckets had one of the best games of his career, finishing with 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, just the fourth 40-point triple double in NBA Finals history.
Butler willed his team to victory in this one on the offensive end, but it was also the complete defensive effort that earned them the win. By game’s end, the Lakers had committed 19 turnovers (including 10 in the first quarter) and could not for the life of them figure out Miami’s zone defense. Davis finished with just 15 points, and only three other players got in double figures for the Lakers.
Bam and Dragic could potentially return for Game 4, making the series that everyone thought was lost much more interesting as we gear up for Tuesday’s matchup. If there is one thing we can take away from this weekend of games, it’s that you can never count out Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.