The Los Angeles Lakers already had a five-point lead at that point, which would swell to 17 by halftime and as many as 32 after that in their 116-98 victory. There was a stretch, however, before the reported plantar fascia tear, in which Miami -- and Dragic, specifically -- were in control of the game. When the Heat built a 13-point lead in the first quarter, it felt even larger.
On Miami's next offensive possession, the Dragic-Adebayo pick-and-roll led to a Jimmy Butler 3 in the same spot:
Off another pick-and-roll with Adebayo, Dragic turned Howard all the way around with a ball fake and made a pretty layup with his off hand:
And even when he airballed a floater, it functioned as an assist to Adebayo:
Here, Danny Green ICEs the pick-and-roll, and Dragic finds Butler for a short baseline jumper:
Dragic was not the only one attacking Howard -- Butler did plenty of damage, too -- but, after watching the Boston Celtics fail to solve this exact problem in the Eastern Conference finals, it stood out. It was not a coincidence that Los Angeles' comeback started precisely when Dragic, Adebayo and Howard checked out of the game.
There were other ways in which Dragic hurt the Lakers, like his two steals that led to transition points:
And the layup that started the second quarter, when he rejected a screen and finished over LeBron James:
But those pick-and-rolls with Adebayo felt significant. Coming into the series, one big question was how the Lakers would fare with Howard (or JaVale McGee) on the floor. They'd taken their traditional centers out of the rotation in the second round against the Houston Rockets, but gone big again in the Western Conference finals.
Los Angeles likes its two-big lineups. All season, physicality has been part of its identity, and it has been happy to sacrifice spacing in the name of offensive rebounding, stingy defense and trips to the free throw line. If Miami were to remove the stingy defense from the equation, it would be tougher for the Lakers to justify continuing to play this way.
The Heat may have been down big at halftime, but they were dominating this game within the game, having outscored Los Angeles by 13 in Howard's six minutes. Howard got another eight minutes of run in the third quarter, and Miami got some decent looks when it put him in pick-and-rolls. The rhythm from the beginning of the game, however, was gone.
Making matters worse, Adebayo had to check out of the game six minutes into the second half with a shoulder injury.
All hope is not lost for the Heat: Dragic can put pressure on his injured foot and might be able to play in Game 2, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and Adebayo intends to play, per the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds. Kendrick Nunn, Miami's regular-season starter, made the most of his 18 unexpected second-half minutes, scoring 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and two assists. Encouraging stuff!
It is worth noting, too, that Dragic was on the bench for the last nine-ish minutes of Game 6 against the Celtics. The Heat are difficult to defend precisely because they can beat you in multiple ways, rather than relying on just one or two playmakers. If Dragic is out or limited for the rest of this series, though, it means less margin for error for a team that might have had almost none in the first place.
Butler acknowledged that he might need to take on a larger playmaking role. It would help if Nunn could pick up where he left off, too, and if Tyler Herro could be more effective than he was in the opener. None of these players, however, consistently hits pull-up 3s and manipulates he defense the way Dragic does.
"We gotta try to cover up what he gives us and make up for it," Butler said. "We're capable of it. We have to be capable of it."
This Miami team has spent the last three months proving it is more capable than anyone thought. Considering the circumstances, though, it is difficult not to be much less optimistic about the Heat's chances going forward. In a game that went absolutely terribly, Dragic was the best thing they had going for them.