How does a team in the NBA Finals come back from that: from being down 17 points at halftime, from trailing by 32 points when things were at their worst, from a defeat that ultimately concluded with an 18-point margin?
The short answer: It does not.
The long answer: Well, it doesn’t most of the time, nearly all of the time. It has happened, though, and the Heat organization has just the right people in just the right places to at least explain how it can be done.
“It’s high-level competition, so you have to do things with force and detail,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game. “We’re much better than we showed tonight … and we’ll get to work.”
Spoelstra is one of the rare coaches who has won the NBA title — multiple times, in fact — after dropping Game 1 of the Finals. His Heat teams did it in 2012 against the Thunder and a year later against the Spurs. That makes him as good an authority as anyone on the subject of recovering in a series after losing the opening game.
And if he needs help understanding how to rebuild confidence and scheme after an absolute disaster like the one that visited the Heat, Spoelstra can turn to his boss.
No team that has lost Game 1 by more than 15 points has recovered to win the NBA Finals … since Pat Riley’s Lakers somehow climbed off the deck after a 34-point blowout in the opener of the 1985 Finals against the Celtics.
Wednesday night, the Heat struggled to find a defensive answer for Lakers superstar Anthony Davis. Even before Bam Adebayo left the game with a shoulder injury, the Lakers’ successful deployment of Dwight Howard at center early in the game provided the Heat with no good answers. Jimmy Butler? Not ideal, but then who guards LeBron James? Jae Crowder? He’s neither as tall nor as mobile.
It only got worse for the Heat as the game advanced. Davis scored 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting and made all 10 of his free throws. He was a plus-23 when on the court, the best figure for any player in the game.
“We have 48 hours to figure out what the next plan of attack will be,” Spoelstra said. “He was extremely good tonight, and we have to be better.”
Since 1980, the team that won the first game went on to win the Finals 29 times, a success rate of 72.5 percent. Of the 11 to lose that game and recover, six fell by single-digit margins. Only those ’85 Lakers absorbed a beating on the order of what was administered to the Heat on Wednesday.
The Lakers won the next two games in that series and closed it out in six.
“I don’t have my message right now,” Spoelstra said, “but I’ve got a night to figure it out. Right now, doesn’t really matter what you say. We’ll get to work and get together tomorrow.”
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