The NBA season tips off on Wednesday (AEST) with drama, as ever, guaranteed. In a two-part series here on The Roar, we analyse the contenders and favourites from the two conferences, starting in the west.
The moment we have been waiting on for over a year finally arrived today.
In a match-up that wasn’t particularly close, the Los Angeles Lakers won their first finals game since 2010 to take a 1-0 series lead against the Miami Heat.
The headliner of today’s game was Anthony Davis, who continued his fantastic playoff run with 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists in his first finals game. 34 points trails just George Mikan and Shaquille O’Neale for most points in a finals debut in Lakers history.
Davis was consistently dominating all game, taking advantage of the size difference over both Bam Adebayo and Jae Crowder who both took turns guarding Davis. While he dominated inside the paint he was also knocking down jumpers from mid-range and from behind the three-point line.
Although Adebayo played just 21 minutes, Davis’ defensive capabilities were on show as he had three blocks and held Adebayo to eight points.
“I just wanted to come out with a lot of energy, be aggressive on the offensive glass and dominate the paint area”, Davis said, which is exactly what he did. He received high praise from teammate Markieff Morris who said, “We got LeBron, but I think [AD] is the best player in the world. He does it on both ends and does it consistently every night”.
LeBron was shaky in the first half with just 9/6/7, it seemed like he couldn’t get anything to fall and that there was a lid on the rim. But during the second half, more specifically the fourth quarter when the Heat cut the 32-point lead to 12, he took over, slowing the game down and taking control back with his eight points.
In the end he finished one assist shy of his 11th career finals triple-double with 25/13/9. Not a bad game, especially when James is known for taking the first game of series to feel the other team out and get to know them. James is locked in for Game 2, expressing how Game 2 of the 2011 finals “[still] burns [him] to this day”.
The Lakers started slow in the first quarter and found themselves down 23-10. “Our energy brought us back into it,” said head coach Frank Vogel. To the surprise of many, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brought them back with ten points in the quarter which led to them winning the opening quarter 31-28.
The Lakers’ early barrage of threes, going 13-21 to start the game, propelled LA to a large and daunting lead at the half.
Vogel, speaking on the key to sustaining runs, said, “Our guys are just motived during that stretch, obviously we didn’t sustain it during that stretch in the fourth quart…whenever we go on a run like that the other team’s coach is going to change the game”.
That’s exactly what Miami coach Erik Spoelstra did, subbing in ROTY runner-up Kendrick Nunn in during the third quarter. Nunn has played very few minutes during the Heat’s playoff run but was one of the few bright spots for Miami today with his 18 points.
Miami have been devastated by injuries to two key players, Adebayo and Goran Dragic. Adebayo didn’t return to the game after sustaining a shoulder injury in the third quarter and there are serious doubts about Dragic returning this series after being diagnosed with a plantar tear in his left foot.
Dragic has led the Heat in scoring during the playoffs this year at 21 a game and will be a big loss for Miami. There is no offical word yet on Adebayo’s status for Game 2.
After a 23-point night, Jimmy Butler expressed his frustration, saying “We talk about now damn near perfect we need to be every night, we were nowhere near that”. Butler watched from the bench as the Heat cut it to 12 late in the final term, and he didn’t get back in.
He was solid throughout the night though, making plays for his teammates and knocking down multiple threes.
“You gotta feel for how hard Miami plays, they smacked us in the mouth,” said LeBron James. Despite the Lakers dominating inside, James felt as if they didn’t respond to Miami’s physicality.
He got into an altercation with former teammate Jae Crowder during the second quarter after Crowder grabbed his arm and pulled him down during a fight for the rebound.
Tyler Herro, who averaged 20 ppg in the ECF had the worst game of his career tonight, tying Kobe Bryant for worst plus-minus in an NBA finals game with -35.
He was consistently targeted on defence by James and couldn’t knock down a shot. Herro is one of the keys to the Heat making this a competitive series and he needs to be better.
Lakers will look to continue their dominance on Friday when the teams reconvene at AdventHealth Arena for Game 2.