"If you want something badly enough, you'll figure it out. Our group is extremely stubborn, persistent, and we just need to figure out how to overcome this opponent. And that we respect the quality, high quality of opponent that we're playing, you got to figure it out and overcome it."
Erik Spoelstra's words following the Miami Heat's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals were straightforward and to the point, leaving very little room for interpretation.
He laid it all out there, except for what exactly it was that he felt his team needed to figure out.
Fast forward less than 48 hours, as the Heat were preparing for a must-win Game 3. During warm ups, All-Star forward Jimmy Butler was energetic and appeared to be in high spirts, especially considering the fact that his team would again be without key starters in Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic.
It was almost as though he knew the team had the "a-ha" moment of cracking LA's code.
MORE: Butler's historic performance leads to Miami's Game 3 win
During his pregame interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols, Butler spoke with confidence about the task at hand, saying "if we get one tonight, we might be up to something." While you should never expect anything less than supreme confidence from Butler, in this moment, his claim felt like much more than simply blind optimisim.
Nichols then asked Butler if he saw something on film that caused this confidence, to which he replied: "if we rebound the basketball, take away a lot of their easy ones, get back … we give ourselves a chance to win.
"Those are things that we can control. So, as long as we don't beat ourselves, I like it."
Then there was the game itself, and based on how Miami came out of the gate, Butler was on to something with his comments.
Similar to Game 1, the Heat built a 13-point lead early on before the Lakers clawed back within striking distance. Despite the similarities to the series opener, this game had a much different feel.
Here's what I saw:
To start, Miami gave itself a chance by making things difficult for Anthony Davis, who picked up his second foul with 4:16 remaining in the first quarter. Davis is too good to ever be a non-factor but the Heat made it to where he had very little impact.
In addition to committing two fouls in the opening frame, AD was held scoreless and committed four turnovers. In fact, he didn't attempt his first shot until the 8:46 mark of the second quarter and would pick up his third foul before the half.
Thinking back to what Butler emphasized in rebounding and taking away easy buckets, he pretty much was saying "make life difficult for Anthony Davis." In Games 1 and 2, Davis dominated all facets of the game, efficiently converting on easy buckets while dominating the offensive glass.
Game 3 … not so much.
While foul trouble is part of the game, it's hard to think AD won't change his approach in an attempt to avoid committing unneccessary fouls. Two of his three fouls in the first half were offensive, which also double as turnovers.
AD's other three turnovers in the first half? A miscommunication with LeBron James on a post entry, an inability to handle a double team on the block and an errant pass that sailed straight out of bounds after receiving a double team.
Following the game, Davis cited poor communication and Miami's penchant for taking charges as reasoning for his turnovers and lapses in aggression later on. He finished with just 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and five rebounds as he truly couldn't get into a groove.
It's hard to envision Davis having another showing of that calibre but the Heat do know the types of looks to throw at him to make him think twice, at the very least.
Rebounding the basketball
During Butler's walk-off interview following Game 3, Nichols reminded him that he said that the team had figured something out, and implored him to expound upon that statement.
His answer was pretty simple:
"We rebounded. That's gonna be the key going forward, we've gotta keep those guys off the boards, limit their second chance points. We got back pretty well. It also helps to make shots, don't ever get me wrong but I'm glad we'll get some people back."
After hearing the above quote, it was surprising to me that the Lakers still won the rebounding battle 43-37 but it was the smallest deficit of the series. In Game 1, LA outrebounded Miami 54-36 and in Game 2 it was a nearly-identical 44-37 outcome.
The difference in Game 3, however, is that the Lakers were limited to just six second chance points after scoring a total of 37 in Games 1 and 2.
While a big part of that has to do with Davis' foul trouble, he still finished the game having played nearly 33 minutes. That the Heat were able to hold their own on the glass without Bam Adebayo bodes well for if he is able to return to the floor this series.
Rebounding is a team effort and while Butler lead the way with 11 rebounds, credit also goes to Jae Crowder (8), Kelly Olynyk (7) and Duncan Robinson (5) for crashing the glass to try and limit LA's opportunities.
Stepping up to make shots
When it comes down to it, the NBA is, indeed, a make or miss league.
Butler said it himself, it helps to make shots, which is exactly what Miami was able to do in Game 3. It's easy to look at Butler's 40 points and assume that he's the one that did the bulk of the shot-making (and technically, he did) but 38 of those 40 points came in the paint or from the charity stripe.
It was his 13 assists, however, that really had a hand in the shot-making.
Of Butler's helpers, seven led to 3-point makes, which represents over half of the 12 triples Miami hit on the night. Duncan Robinson sank three 3s off of Butler assists, Tyler Herro hit two while big men Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard each hit a 3 off of a pass from Butler.
It was the second straight big performance for Olynyk, who scored 17 points off the bench after scoring 24 points in Game 2. Leonard finished with seven points (on 3-for-3 shooting) in under 13 minutes but was again more than serviceable in Adebayo's absence.
For the above two, it's all about staying ready, as their roles have varied throughout the postseason. It's especially important for them to hit shots, as they each provide a dynamic that Adebayo doesn't with their perimeter shooting ability.
The Lakers, who often roll out big lineups, are placed in a tough predicament when their bigs are unable to get out there to Leonard or Olynyk, which allows them to make their presence felt.
Obviously, the objective is to score more points than your opponent but the ways in which Miami was able to get going offensively in Game 3 was sustainable and can be replicated throughout the series, provided Los Angeles doesn't adjust to limit such opportunities.
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