Everything we learned about the Lakers-Heat Finals in Game 1

The Los Angeles Lakers made a loud statement with Wednesday’s 116-98 Game 1 win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

LeBron James recorded 25 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists, Anthony Davis added a game-high 34 points and 9 rebounds, and the 3-pointers were dropping for the Lakers, who turned an early 13-point deficit into a 32-point lead.

For the Heat, the injuries have already piled up. All-Star Bam Adebayo left in the third quarter with a shoulder strain, while guard Goran Dragic suffered a left foot injury before halftime. (Jimmy Butler rolled his left ankle in the second quarter but remained in the game.)

Here’s what our NBA experts were watching most closely in Game 1, and what it means for the series moving forward.

MORE: Watching Game 1 of the Finals with Chris Bosh

Davis looks the part in his first NBA Finals game

Anthony Davis’ Finals debut was everything Lakers fans dreamed about when the team acquired him in the summer of 2019.

Coming into this postseason, it was fair to question whether Davis could thrive deep into the playoffs. After all, in his previous seven years in the NBA, he had only played 13 playoff games and had never been out of the second round.

But Davis is suddenly the leading postseason scorer on the team with a 1-0 lead in the 2020 Finals, and his Game 1 performance was a huge reason: 34 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in 38 minutes.

As far as Lakers’ Finals debuts go, this one is up there with a few big names.

Davis may or may not end up as the MVP of this series, but he was unstoppable in Game 1. The Lakers outscored Miami by 23 points when Davis was on the floor; they were outscored by five when he was on the bench.

Going forward, Miami must find ways to contain him if they have any chance of winning this thing. That effort must start at the rim. Davis had seven buckets in the restricted area alone, and 26 of his 34 points came in the paint or at the foul line. It remains unclear if Miami even has a potential answer, especially with Bam Adebayo’s injury status up in the air.

Few defenders in the league can match up with the Lakers’ All-NBA big man, but Adebayo is one of few who can at least match his crazy blend of speed, size, strength and skill.

If Adebayo misses time or is limited in any way, it’s hard to see how Miami can even slow Davis in this series.

— Kirk Goldsberry

The Heat can’t afford to have a compromised Adebayo

Bam Adebayo was Miami’s best player in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. He led them in points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage. Teammates openly called him the heart and soul of the squad.

The hope for Miami was he would continue on that upward trend. But then Adebayo appeared to re-aggravate a left shoulder injury that he sustained in the conference finals.

Miami’s success is largely predicated on Adebayo’s impact on both ends. On offense, Miami’s dribble hand-off game is centered around Adebayo and his ability to set screens for the shooters and the threat of him diving to the basket. His defense sets the tone.

A hurt Adebayo is no small matter. But injuries were the story for Miami, even beyond the big man.

Guard Goran Dragic, Miami’s leading scorer in the postseason, suffered a plantar tear in his left foot and did not return. He hasn’t been ruled out for the series, but his absence could have calamitous consequences for Miami.

Jimmy Butler was hobbled early in the game with an ankle injury right before the half. He was able to stay in the game to finish with 23 points.

Butler and Adebayo need to match their output from the previous three playoff series. Leading into Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Heat had outscored opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions when those two were on the floor together.

For Miami to have a chance in this series, the Heat need that Adebayo healthy and ready to go.

— Jorge Sedano

How Crowder vs. LeBron sparked the Lakers

Shaquille O’Neal was in the virtual audience Wednesday night, and if anyone could relate to the physical exchanges between Miami Heat forward Jae Crowder and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, it was O’Neal.

In his prime, there was no way to stop the self-proclaimed “most dominant ever,” except to try to push him around on every play and hope the referees would only call some of them.

Crowder tried to set that tone with James in Game 1, first wrestling with him on the ground for a loose ball and nearly ripping his right arm off in the process, then swatting the ball away from James after a dead ball so he couldn’t go back up with a lay-up.

The message was clear: Miami wasn’t giving James anything easy.

That strategy has worked on physically dominant players in the past, but in this case it backfired.

Lakers teammate Anthony Davis came over to defend James, standing nose-to-nose with Crowder after the play in which James seemed to hurt his shoulder.

Then James threw down a powerful two-handed reverse dunk after the halftime buzzer that should make every postgame highlight show. James yelled out some choice words to Crowder as he left the court.

This message was clearer: Neither James nor the Lakers would be intimidated by contact.

If anything, Crowder’s physicality seemed to draw more physicality out of the Lakers, as they came out of halftime with tremendous intensity to break the game open.

“I don’t think in the beginning we were physical enough,” James said. “You have to get a feel for how hard Miami plays. I think they smacked us in the mouth. From that moment when it was 23-10, we started playing to our capabilities.”

Miami can try that again, but James and the Lakers stood their ground in Game 1.

— Ramona Shelburne

The Lakers were the bigger bullies in Game 1

In today’s era of pace-and-space, teams are trying to play smaller and quicker. The Lakers, though, have gone the other way, playing a massive frontline with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard in their frontcourt.

Coach Frank Vogel has leaned into the Lakers’ size, strength and toughness. It turned out to be the driving force behind the Lakers powering through the Western Conference, and it was the key to L.A.’s emphatic Game 1 victory.

Yes, Heat center Bam Adebayo exited in the second half with an injury. But the physical domination of the Heat started well before his departure and likely wouldn’t have stopped if he’d remained in the game. The Lakers controlled the boards, out-rebounding Miami 54-36. Los Angeles also had seven steals and eight blocks as its size and length made the Heat look small and indecisive.

The Heat had previously been the aggressor throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Miami took it to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, the Milwaukee Bucks in the second and the Boston Celtics in the East finals, muscling opponents inside and dictating how the games would be played.

None of that was apparent in this game, outside of the opening few minutes. Instead, the Lakers played the game their way.

— Tim Bontemps

What does Erik Spoelstra do in response?

Heat head coach Erik Spolestra is going to have two difficult meetings on Thursday.

One is going to be what could be a bleak briefing from Dr. Harlan Selesnick, the team’s orthopedist in the bubble who was very busy with injuries to Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo in Game 1.

The other will be with his coaching staff. The film will have been reviewed and the advanced stats, bloody as they may be, will be compiled into a report. And Spoelstra, who has excelled throughout his career at making in-season and in-series adjustments, will have as big of a challenge as he’s ever faced.

The Heat’s game plan against the Lakers collapsed even before a stunning rash of injuries ravaged their star players. The Lakers took a look at the Heat’s plan to switch on all pick and rolls and then relentlessly hunted down mismatches.

Poor Tyler Herro. He was returned to rookie status as LeBron James repeatedly waved the player he was guarding over to set a screen and force Herro to switch onto him. Over 18 consecutive first-half minutes, James attacked Herro again and again. It was a central reason why Herro was a horrific minus-30 in that first half and finished minus-35 for the game.

Determined to keep Adebayo out of foul trouble — which didn’t work — Spoelstra had a series of smaller defenders start possessions on Anthony Davis. Before the first quarter was over, Butler, Jae Crowder, Duncan Robinson, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill had tried and mostly failed to handle Davis, who crushed the strategy. They double-teamed him a few times, but Davis knew exactly what to do.

These realities are one of the reasons the Heat used a zone defense so much against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, who had a bunch of multi-talented players. But the Celtics didn’t have a star big man. Spoelstra ran zone just four times in the first half, the time it was actually a game, and it was limp.

Spoelstra may have to re-examine that choice, especially if Dragic’s injury forces Kendrick Nunn back into the rotation and leaves another defender to attack. And to look at being faster and more aggressive in sending the double teams, rolling the dice that the Lakers’ supporting cast won’t shoot as well in Game 2.

Davis and James, though, create a set of problems that are hard to manage even when totally healthy. Their size and skill are just a beast to deal with and it will look even more challenging in the harsh light of day.

— Brian Windhorst

Lakers’ role players prove to be the difference

LeBron James only made two field goals in the first half, but he dominated with seven assists that helped activate the Lakers’ secret weapon: their role players.

After the Heat rushed to a 23-10 lead at the 5:38 mark of the first quarter, eight of the next 10 Los Angeles points came via Rajon Rondo (jumper) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (two 3-pointers and two free throws). By the time the quarter ended with an Alex Caruso 3-pointer, the Lakers were up by three.

In the second quarter, the Heat reclaimed a 43-41 lead, and again the Lakers’ role players took control, scoring 13 of the next 16 points with the trust of their stars. Danny Green hit two 3-pointers, one assisted by James and the other by Davis. Markieff Morris hit a 3-pointer off a Davis pass. Caruso got a layup off a James assist.

A few minutes later, the Lakers were up 12 and moving quickly toward a blowout.

James and Davis set up their teammates with great passes in position to score. The Lakers made 10 of 13 field goals (including 6 of 9 3-pointers) off passes from James and Davis in the first half, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

This directly translated to the Lakers’ dominance behind the arc. The Lakers made a franchise-record 11 first-half 3-pointers. According to ESPN Stats and Information, they made 10 of 15 3-point attempts that came directly off a pass. Many of their looks were uncontested, with the team knocking down 8 of 12 open looks.

If James and Davis continue to draw the defense and set up teammates for wide-open shots, this Lakers team becomes nearly impossible to beat.

— André Snellings

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