The Los Angeles Lakers are two wins away from title No. 17.
Led once again by Anthony Davis, the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the 2020 NBA Finals in dominating fashion. Davis finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds in the win while LeBron James came close to yet another triple-double with 33 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
Jimmy Butler did all he could to keep it close with 25 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds, but Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo being sidelined with injuries - more on that below - was simply too much for the Heat to overcome.
For more on the game, here are some quick thoughts.
1. No Dragic and Adebayo is brutal
A few hours before the game, the reports came in that Dragic (foot) and Adebayo (neck/shoulder) would miss Game 2 with injuries.
Time will tell if either one of them is able to suit up for Game 3, but the Heat are going to have a tough time competing in this series as long as they are out.
Dragic has been instrumental to the Heat's success in the playoffs, giving them another playmaker next to Butler in the backcourt. His 19.9 points per game rank second to only Butler for most on the team and his 4.6 assists per game tie him with Butler and Adebayo for most on the team. Him getting back to his All-Star ways has completely changed the fabric of this team.
As for Adebayo, he's been arguably Miami's best player on both ends of the court. His averages speak for themselves - 17.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks per game - but the Heat being 11.3 points per 100 possessions better with him in the lineup paints a clearer picture of how important he is to Miami.
Now down 2-0, the Heat can only hope that Dragic and Adebayo will be able to go for Game 3. If they can't, this is going to be a short series.
2. Desperate times call for desperate measures
Without Dragic and Adebayo, the Heat started Game 2 with Butler, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Jae Crowder and Meyers Leonard.
Want to guess how many minutes those five logged together this season? Zero in the regular season and two in the playoffs, per NBA.com.
Butler, Herro, Robinson and Crowder have been in the rotation the entire postseason, but Game 2 was only the second time in these playoffs that Leonard has taken the court.
Tough time for the Heat to have to dust off that lineup.
At least 4 times in the first 3:52, Jimmy Butler has had to point and tell guys where to go. It's like this five hasn't played together before this season.- Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) October 3, 2020
(NARRATOR: Except for like four possessions, they hadn't.)
3. A different Dwight Howard comes to play
Howard got off to a rough start in Game 1.
Not only did he fail to score in the first quarter, he had as many turnovers (1) as rebounds (1). It didn't help that Dragic was relentlessly attacking him in the pick-and-roll, leading to Howard getting an early seat on the bench.
Game 2 was a different story.
Howard set the tone for the Lakers with an energetic start on both ends of the court. On offence, he scored six points on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting and dished out one assist. He was aggressive running the floor with James and Davis, which resulted in a couple of easy buckets.
Superman Mode pic.twitter.com/KK27rZmzG1- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 3, 2020
Defensively, Howard pulled down a couple of boards and came up with a block on Butler at the rim.
The difference: Los Angeles trailed 23-10 when Howard checked out of the game in the first quarter of Game 1. In Game 2, it led 25-18.
He wasn't the only reason the Lakers led early, but Howard contributed to them coming out of the gates strong in a big way. His resurgence this season has been quite the story.
4. LeBron is a cheat code
As expected, the Heat went to their zone defence early and often in Game 2.
In theory, it's a smart way of defending the Lakers. As I wrote heading into the series, the Lakers dominate the paint like few others and were a below average 3-point shooting team during the regular season. The Heat's 2-3 zone is designed to shut down the paint and encourage teams to settle for 3-pointers. It should be effective against the Lakers.
In reality, it's hard to play zone when James is on the court because he's a basketball savant who can do things like this:
Mid-air dish from the King.- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 3, 2020
Big slam from the Brow.
(📺: ABC) pic.twitter.com/P4KTtG4xrv
The Heat's zone is a different animal when Adebayo is the one protecting the rim, not Leonard or Kelly Olynyk, but being able to put James in the middle of a zone and play off of him is a cheat code because it puts him in position to pick teams apart with his passing.
The Lakers even moved James around in the zone, sometimes having him on the wing, sometimes having him roam around on the baseline. Between him doing all of that and Davis hammering the Heat on the offensive glass, the Lakers handled their first extended look at the Heat's zone just fine.
5. A layup line
Want to know how much the Heat missed Adebayo defensively in Game 2? The Lakers were 17-for-20 on 2-pointers in the first half, the bulk of which came at the rim.
The reason the Heat were still within striking distance was because the Lakers cooled off from 3-point range, going 9-for-27.
Adebayo isn't even a Rudy Gobert-like rim protector - it's his ability to guard basically every position at a high level as a 6-foot-9 and 225-pound centre that makes him one of the best defenders in the league - but he's far more effective than Leonard and Olynyk in that department. According to NBA.com, opponents shot 55.6 percent against Adebayo at the rim during the regular season. Against Leonard, they shot 65.9 percent. Against Olynyk, 61.7 percent.
Without Adebayo, it's hard to see the Heat having any chance of keeping this Lakers team out of the paint, even if they decide to play zone exclusively.
6. Davis is coming for Finals MVP
There's still a lot of basketball to be played in this series. The Heat could get Dragic and Adebayo back in Game 3. The Heat could win two straight to tie the series up and keep it going to at least six games. James could catch fire and string together some historic performances to lead the Lakers to the title.
But as of right now, the Finals MVP award is Davis' to lose.
Davis followed his historic Game 1 with 32 points, 14 rebounds, one steal and one block. He was incredibly efficient, shooting 15-for-20 from the field. He got it done from inside and out, although he once again did his best work around the basket, where he overwhelmed the Heat with his size.
Davis' best stretch in Game 2 came in the third quarter when he scored 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting. The Heat had absolutely no answer for him.
30 for AD with 4 minutes left to play in the 3rd quarter on ABC! #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/j5oLBWsNy7- NBA (@NBA) October 3, 2020
Another masterclass from a legend in the making.
7. Kendrick wants Nunn of that
One of the few shots Davis missed in Game 2:
Nunn with the rejection! 🚫#NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/m3f0isesSM- NBA TV (@NBATV) October 3, 2020
That's a 6-foot-2 guard blocking a 6-foot-10 forward. You don't see that often.
8. All good things must come to an end
According to ESPN, the Heat had won seven straight Game 2s after losing Game 1 entering this contest, all of which have come under Erik Spoelstra, which is the longest such streak in NBA history.
That streak is ... now over. Still, incredibly impressive.
The Heat were able to keep Game 2 interesting despite not having Dragic and Adebayo. Butler led the way, but they got some good minutes out of Herro, Olynyk and Nunn. They also lived at the free throw line, going 31-for-34 from the charity stripe compared to only 10-for-17 for the Lakers. (You know Lakers head coach Frank Vogel isn't going to be happy about that).
Even if they are down two of their best players, the Heat showed in Game 2 that they're going to fight to the very end. Expect to see a lot more of that fight in Game 3.
9. What's next
The Lakers and Heat will face off in Game 3 on Sunday. Slightly earlier start time, as tip off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET, not 9:00 p.m.
Catch you then.
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