Game 1 of the NBA Finals began compellingly enough as the Heat came out with purpose, executing their offence with the same kind of focus of intention which led to their first Finals appearance since 2014. The Heat owed much of their early success to Goran Dragic’s ability to attack and exploit the soft coverages and early miscommunications of Lakers big man Dwight Howard. Howard’s two early fouls point to the Heat’s 1st quarter emphasis on forcing him into making leveraged decisions on the ball. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Heat built their entire 23-10 first-quarter lead around attacking Howard in some capacity. Let’s look at the first Heat basket of the game.
Dragic easily blows by Howard’s soft pick ‘n’ roll coverage, forcing Davis to help off the corner shooter.
In the next clip, Dragic keeps the ball for a clever finish at the rim but there is a slight wrinkle to the pick ‘n’ roll. The Heat empties the strong side where the action is taking place, eliminating any help from the corner on the Bam drive.
Unfortunately for the Heat, the Lakers can simply sit Dwight Howard, and catastrophically for the Heat, Goran Dragic would later leave the game with what is now being reported as a planter tear in his left foot. Dragic is Miami’s leading playoff scorer and the catalyst for the brief glimmer of success the Heat enjoyed against the Laker’s in game 1. Simply put, if Dragic is unable to return and contribute to the series, the Heat’s cinderella run from 5th seed to Eastern Conference champion is over.
Defensively, the Heat had one big question to answer: how to guard Anthony Davis. Speculation found its confirmation when the Lakers opted to start the game with the two-big lineup consisting of a Howard and Davis frontcourt. The Heat, concerned about early fouls on their best player Bam Adebayo, opted to cover Davis with the smaller Jae Crowder while providing ample help off anyone not named LeBron James. The decision to let “the others” beat them, while perhaps philosophically correct, did hurt the Heat, though it would be overshadowed by Davis’s dominating performance. The Lakers shot nearly 40% from the three-point line, with nine different players contributing at least one made three.
The Lakers would wrestle the lead away from the Miami Heat in the middle of the second quarter and never gave it back. Miami’s best-laid plans in regards to the Anthony Davis matchup resulted in 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks performance. Davis ran the floor hard, exploiting nearly every transition and semi-transition opportunity. In a truly special finals debut, Davis played a nearly flawless game on both sides of the ball. Whatever Miami’s future plans are for the Davis matchup, it can’t depend on 6’6 wings like Jae Crowder.
The final score of 116-98 obscures what was at one point a 32 point lead by the Lakers, finishing the game on a 70-30 run…in the NBA finals. By the five-minute mark in the third quarter, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic were in the locker room with injuries and Jimmy Butler was playing through a bum ankle. All Miami fans had to root for was that Kelly Olynek and Kendrick Nunn looked playable enough in garbage time to merit minutes moving forward.
Whether or not the Heat can make this a competitive series will depend primarily on the health of their key players moving forward and secondarily on their ability to craft a remotely viable approach to defending Davis. Spoelstra and his staff face a difficult decision. The Heat played small to start the Finals because playing small is what got them to the Finals in the first place. Adebayo’s move to the full-time five surrounded by a cast of versatile wings is what lead Miami to a 12-3 record in the playoffs prior to Wednesday night’s blowout loss. But it’s also left them appearing shockingly small and overwhelmed against an assertive Anthony Davis.
LeBron James: The Lakers game one victory was Lebron’s 50th career playoff game and his 10th Finals appearance. Jeff Van Gundy was correct to bring up the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comparison during Wednesday night’s broadcast, as “The Captain’s” 10 finals appearances in 20 seasons remains the only true historical parallel for what James hopes to accomplish and exceed late in his career. LeBron effortless played his way into a 25 point, 13 rebounds, and 9 assist performance in Game 1, mercilessly hunting Miami’s guards on switches and easily beating backline help.
Free Throws: The Miami Heat shot just 14 free throws in Game 1. The Heat were amongst the league’s best foul-drawing teams all year, averaging nearly 27 FTA per game in the playoffs. Free throws, much like transition scoring for the Lakers, act as an offensive failsafe for the Heat and it was no accident they struggled against an active and long Laker’s defense.
When to Watch Next
Lakers v. Heat Game 2
October 2, 2020, 8:00 (CT) on ABC