Anthony Davis scored 30 points before his second miss in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. He reached that mark on a putback seven and a half minutes into the third quarter on Friday, the third consecutive possession in which he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. He was 14-for-15 at the time.
"His shotmaking, the many ways that he can hurt you offensively -- in the post, rolling to the basket, working the baseline like he did against the zone, working the middle, shooting 3s from the perimeter -- it's just very unique," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after the 124-114 victory. "You can just see his determination to win this championship on both sides of the ball. But I thought tonight you saw it even more on the offensive end."
Davis scored only two points on 1-for-5 shooting after those putbacks, and the Miami Heat hung around with both Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, two of their three best players, sidelined. Los Angeles clamped down in the fourth quarter, though, and escaped with a win despite the Heat shooting 31-for-34 from the free throw line.
LeBron James had a game-high 33 points on 14-for-25 shooting, matching Davis' offensive brilliance. Rajon Rondo was stellar on that end, too, finishing with 16 points, 10 assists and four rebounds in 26 minutes. Much of the damage was done against a 2-3 zone.
The Lakers were not nearly as successful, however, on the other end, especially in the second and third quarters, in which Miami outscored them 78-70.
Jimmy Butler put on a masterclass for the undermanned Heat, with 25 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Kelly Olynyk had 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting, plus nine rebounds, coming off the bench but essentially filling in for Adebayo.
Los Angeles leads the series 2-0. Here are three takeaways:
1. Location, location, location: The Paint
The paint is the most important real estate on the court, and both teams were intent on owning it. The Lakers outscored the Heat 56-46 in the paint, conveniently the same scoring margin as the final score, but the story is more complicated than that: Miami had a massive advantage at the line, and the Lakers absolutely dominated the Heat on the boards (with a 38.5 percent offensive rebounding rate, per Cleaning The Glass).
Miami looked different without Dragic and Adebayo, but "their movement offense is very difficult to guard no matter who's in uniform," Vogel said. The Heat could go five-out all game, and the spacing opened up driving lanes, mostly for Butler and Kendrick Nunn. (At one point in the first half, Jae Crowder was able to drive to the rim untouched for an uncontested dunk.)
According to Cleaning The Glass, Miami shot 21-for-29 and drew 10 shooting fouls at the rim -- 46 percent of its offense came at the rim, a mark it only surpassed three times this season.
Los Angeles shot 19-for-27 and drew three shooting fouls at the rim, per CTG, but the difference is that it also went 8-for-9 on short midrange shots, i.e. floaters. Those are typically extremely inefficient, and the accuracy points to a couple of things: Great shotmaking, particularly from Davis, and the Lakers' comfort level against the zone.
The Lakers had a terrific night on offense, but it wasn't because they beat the Heat's zone with their 3-point shooting. They went 16-for-47 from deep (the bench was great, but starters Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went a combined 3-for-19), instead picking the defense apart by getting into the middle of it, bending the defense and finding easy buckets. Dwight Howard had one surprising high-post assist, but the vast majority of the time it was James, Davis or Rondo making the plays.
"We want to put playmakers in the middle," Vogel said. "If we can get the ball there and suck the defenders in, it opens up the perimeter, it opens up the rim. And obviously, you want great decision-makers in there, so Bron, AD, Rondo, all those guys getting in that spot benefits our offense."
Rondo is a non-traditional zone buster because defenses continue to leave him open no matter how many 3s he makes. He is adept at manipulating defenders, though, and finding a zone's weak spots. In his 26 minutes, the Lakers scored 141.5 points per 100 possessions.
The other part of it, obviously, was the second-chance points. Eight of Davis' 14 rebounds were on the offensive end, and the crazy thing is that Los Angeles' offensive rebounding rate was slightly better when playing its version of smallball (i.e. with Howard on the bench), which isn't all that small.
"We definitely punished that aspect of their zone defense," Vogel said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was more philosophical: "In those moments of truth, when we had opportunities to get the game closer, it usually seemed to end up in some kind of offensive rebound or something near the basket. But this is the deal. And if you want something badly enough, you'll figure out how to overcome it. They have great size, and Anthony Davis is an elite player. We're trying to get something accomplished, and you just have to go to another level. That's the bottom line."
2. Location, location, location: Behind the arc
The Heat shot a better percentage from the field, a better percentage from 3-point range, scored 21 more points from the free throw line and still lost by double digits. Some of that is because of the offensive boards, but some of it is a math problem.
The Lakers didn't shoot their 3s well, but they launched a ton of them, almost a necessity against a Miami team focused on protecting the paint regardless of its defensive scheme. The Heat, on the other hand, only went 11-for-27, and two-thirds of their attempts were above-the-break 3s. The Lakers have always been excellent at running shooters off the line, and they were particularly attuned to it against these spaced-out Miami lineups.
In those moments of truth, down by 10 or so in the second half, Spoesltra would have liked to see the Heat work for clean looks from deep.
"I thought we rushed some of those possessions," Spoelstra said. "We don't want to play prevent offense by any means, but execute a little bit more with poise and get the exact shot that we want -- and oftentimes that shot probably would've been some kind of 3. But it takes a little bit more patience and poise and intentionality to be able to generate a few more looks."
The flip side of this, however, is that its part of why Miami was able to get to the paint and the line so frequently. Spoelstra is right that the Heat's offense wasn't great down the stretch, but, despite the absence of Dragic and Adebayo, they scored 125.3 points per 100 possessions, the best mark a Lakers opponent has managed in their entire playoff run. The problem was getting stops.
3. 'Our guys brought it'
Butler said Wednesday that he'd have to take a more aggressive playmaking role if Dragic could't play. He did just that, and you must not be fooled by his 7-for-17 shooting. Butler went 11-for-12 from the line and controlled the Heat's offense for the 44 minutes and 44 seconds in which he was on the court.
Going forward, Spoelstra might need to consider playing him the full 48 -- in the three minutes and 16 seconds in which Butler sat, Miami was outscored by seven points, with an offensive rating of 80.0 and a defensive rating of 183.3.
"He is a supreme competitor," Spoelstra said. "You can't define him by any analytic or typical viewpoint of how to play the game of basketball because he's going to compete and he's going to find different ways to compete, to put your team in a position to win. It was 45 minutes of everything he had."
It was not just Butler, however. Nunn provided dribble penetration, Herro bounced back from a rough Finals opener and Olynyk did a bit of everything, including an and-1 against James late in the third quarter. The Heat had to tweak their approach, but they still played their unselfish brand of basketball, finishing with 29 assists on 36 made shots.
"It was a much better competitive disposition (compared to Game 1)," Spoelstra said. "Our guys brought it."
Spoelstra said he loves the team, but they need to find another level, Butler included. Unless they get healthy, though -- Adebayo plans to play in Game 3 on Sunday, Dragic's status is unclear -- they will continue to be seen as enormous underdogs.
"We don't give a shit what everybody else thinks," Spoelstra said.