Everything that could go wrong, did for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The Miami Heat successfully neutralized Anthony Davis, who torched them in the two previous games, trapping him in foul trouble early in the first half.
Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ended the night shooting 1-of-11 combined. LeBron James matched his season-high of eight turnovers, overshadowing a near triple-double performance.
And — as if to prove that when it rains, it really pours — Jimmy Butler had 40 points, adding 11 rebounds and 13 assists to almost single-handedly carry Miami to a win.
James, Davis and head coach Frank Vogel kept saying they were unhappy with the team’s performance even when the Lakers took a 2-0 lead in the series.
They dreaded L.A. would eventually pay the price for the inconsistency and the defensive blemishes that pockmarked their play early in the Finals. And they faced the music in Game 3 when individual performances could not save them from taking a loss.
To give credit where credit is due: the Heat did a fantastic job on the defensive end to throw L.A. off their rhythm and force the turnovers (19 of them, compared to Miami’s 12).
“You’re in trouble,” Butler uttered to James and his Lakers in an attempt to rile the three-time NBA champion up even more on Sunday night.
But L.A. has been here before. They dropped both series openers against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets and then allowed the Denver Nuggets to bounce back from a 2-0 deficit in the Western Conference Finals.
Every time they came back stronger, hungrier, and more determined to regain the momentum. And every time they figured out precisely what was not clicking the previous time.
On Sunday, L.A. was uncharacteristically undisciplined and, simply, played below their average in most of the key statistical areas. Addressing the communication issues on defense and the sloppiness with the ball, and just putting in more effort will be crucial in Game 4 as those are the sins nobody can afford to commit against Butler and the Heat.
Luckily for the Lakers, James understands that. “It starts with me and I take full responsibility for that,” he said after the loss. “I’ll be a lot better on Tuesday with that, understanding they are very good with their hands, they are very good with the stripping.”
What Miami team L.A. will face on Tuesday is another variable that will play a major role in deciding the outcome of Game 4 and the series.
Goran Dragic seems to be ruled out at least for the next meeting with a foot injury. But Bam Adebayo could eventually make his return, which would significantly boost Miami’s presence in the paint.
However, the Heat’s personnel should not top the list of concerns for the Lakers. Rather, it should retaking control of the pace and be imposing their game as they have throughout this postseason.
And, perhaps, making sure almost every player will not record their worst playoff performance of the season on the same night yet again.
Everything did go wrong for L.A. in Game 3. And it happens, losing is part of the game after all — James has never swept his opponent in the NBA Finals before.
But the Lakers now need to make sure everything falls into place, will it into existence if need be, and prove Butler wrong. Because you can’t cave in and dance to these resilient Heat’s tune twice in a row. If you do, you really are in trouble.
Heat (1-2) vs. Lakers (2-1)
6:00 p.m. PT, Oct. 4, 2020
ESPN Wide World of Sports, Orlando, Florida
Radio: 710 AM ESPN L.A.
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Danny Green
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris
Projected Heat starting lineup:
PG: Tyler Herro
SG: Duncan Robinson
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Jae Crowder
C: Bam Adebayo
Key Reserves: Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala, Solomon Hill, Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard
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