The Lakers seemed inevitable
Davis was the main defender on 11 shots against Butler on Tuesday, according to ESPN, having defended just four shots from Butler in the first three games of the series. Butler has made three of his last 12 attempts, including 1 for 7 with Davis as his main defenseman.
It’s a testament to the Brow’s versatility that head coach Frank Vogel would consider putting him on Butler. Davis is a 7-footer who almost always defends the tall ones. But Davis is a phenomenal athlete, and after Butler dominated the Lakers in paint in Game 3, AD and LeBron James made sure it didn’t happen again. Of Butler’s 17 shots, 15 were defended by Davis or James.
It’s not the Showtime Lakers. This team has been a defensive juggernaut all season, and the Lakers have been flexible in Game 4. Their defensive efficiency in the half court improved to 98.6 points allowed per 100 possessions in Game 4 after having given up 123.9 in Games 2 and 3, according to Second Spectrum.
While Butler started strong and ended badly, James did the opposite. After a tough first quarter that included five turnovers, James finished the game as the top scorer and rebounder. A remarkable 20 of his 28 points came in a pivotal second half that brought his side to a title win.
If there was a streak that embodied this match, it happened at the end of the fourth quarter. With the Lakers up 90-88 and 3:05 to go, Butler missed an open corner 3. James grabbed the board, pushed the ball to the ground and handed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a clean transition penny, which drained a corner 3.
Caldwell-Pope was the X factor for purple and gold, scoring 15 points and adding five assists. The Lakers are 12-1 in the playoffs as he scores at least 10 points, and his 3-point shot has given this team a huge boost. KCP had 40 3 points in the playoffs, tied for second in the playoffs in Lakers history. Only Kobe Bryant in 2010 was over 3.
The Lakers have made all winning plays on the stretch. We shouldn’t be surprised. These players are sort of 56-0 after leading at the end of the third quarter.
The Lakers know how to end games. Even when they missed shots down the home stretch, they seemed to get their own rebounds, robbing Miami of the ability to get the saves needed to tie the game. The Lakers’ four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter were absolutely crucial.
From a Miami perspective, Goran Dragic’s absence was significant. With Davis and James able to focus on controlling Butler, the Heat didn’t have enough firepower elsewhere.
Dragic is not just the starting goalie for this team. He was also his top scorer in those finals. In the conference final against the Boston Celtics, Dragic played over 24 pick-and-roll games per game, per Second Spectrum. With a starting PG on the board, Miami’s half-court options aren’t good enough to beat one of the best defenses in the league, even with Bam Adebayo back in the fold.
Adebayo performed well on his return to action, but the way he played fell short of his high standards. Adebayo ended the game with just one assist, his lowest score since January.
Sadly, injuries are a fact of life in the NBA, and for the second year in a row, the Finals have been affected.
Last season, the Golden State Warriors couldn’t hang on to the Toronto Raptors after losing Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Adebayo and Dragic don’t have the same superstar weight as these guys, but they’re two of Miami’s three most important players. It’s hard to see how the Heat could have gotten this far without them. In fact, it’s impressive that Miami has done things this competitive while missing both players at full strength against a LeBron James team firing at all cylinders.
Looking ahead to Game 5, Miami’s offense needs to be better to extend the series. Butler will have to overcome the game against Davis and his teammates will have to give him more help. The Heat bench combined to go 4 for 19 from the field for just 13 points on Tuesday, and the Heat shooters converted just three of their 14 open 3s per second spectrum. It’s a league you don’t want to miss and Miami’s off-the-ball players didn’t shoot enough shots to block.
For an under-equipped Heat team to beat LeBron, AD and the Lakers in the final, they’ll need to play close enough to perfect. Miami did it in Game 3, but failed to do it again in Game 4. Now the Heat need three straight perfect games to steal a bubble championship.