Three Things to Know 20201008

Lakers vs. Heat, Finals Game 5: Three Things to Know (10/8/20)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers beat Miami 102-96 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Here are three things to know prior to Friday’s Game 5, as the Lakers have a chance to secure a championship:

LeBron James doesn’t like to mess around with the Basketball Gods once his teams have sniffed blood in a playoff series. That’s best shown by his record in closeout games, where he’s won 16 of the last 17 such opportunities to put an opponent away, including all three times in these 2020 playoffs when LAL have led 3-1.

LeBron’s frequent explanation for his mindset ahead of closeout games is simple: match his opponent’s desperation. That seems more easily said than done, right? Before Thursday’s practice, I asked him how he finds a way to get into that mental space.

“Just who I am,” he said. “Just the way I prepare my mind, prepare my body, prepare for the moment. Just having that desperation coming to a close-out game. I've been victorious after having that mindset. But that's just who I've become and how I've challenged and channeled my mindset. Living in the moment and not taking it for granted and just channeling that desperation, just knowing that the opponent and the man that's across from you has that same feeling.”

Let’s take a moment to appreciate what LeBron has done throughout the playoffs, in his 17th season, to lead the Lakers to within a game of the franchise’s 17th championship:

LeBron James Playoff Stats: 26.9 points; 54.5% FG’s; 35.2% 3’s; 10.5 rebounds; 8.8 assists; 1.2 steals; and 0.9 blocks.
Advanced Stats: net rating – 8.5; true shooting %– 57.7%; usage rate – 38.8; restricted area shooting – 73.7%.

Stats tend to emphasize offense more than defense, but his work on the defensive end has stood out as well, whether he’s defending on the perimeter or at the rim. He ranks third on the team (Markieff Morris, Alex Caruso) in individual defensive rating at 104.7 for the playoffs.

In the Finals, his production has remained historically great, with the only real hiccup coming in the form of turnovers in Games 3 and 4, when he amassed 14 miscues, compared to only two in the first two games.

But in the three closeout games to this point, he’s been otherworldly:

Game 5 vs. Portland: 36 points (14 of 19 FG’s, 4 of 7 3’s, 4 of 4 FT’s), 10 boards, 10 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, +20 in a 131-122 win.
Game 5 vs. Houston: 29 points (9 of 18 FG’s, 3 of 8 3’s, 8 of 10 FT’s), 11 boards, 7 assists, 1 block, 2 steals, +19 in a 119-96 win.
Game 5 vs. Denver: 38 points (15 of 25 FG’s, 1 of 4 3’s, 7 of 8 FT’s), 16 boards, 10 assists, 1 steal, +12 in a 117-107 win.

That averages out to: 34.3 points on 38 of 62 FG’s (61.3%) and 8 of 19 3’s (42.1%), 12.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.67 blocks and 1.3 steals.

Historic greatness.

In Game 3 of the Finals, Jimmy Butler exploded for 40 points on 14 of 20 FG’s, leading the Heat to their lone victory in four games thus far. He deserves credit for an all-time dominant Finals performance.

Yet the Lakers did have an answer for Butler, one that Frank Vogel couldn’t deploy in Game 3 due mostly to foul trouble: Anthony Davis.

From the opening tip, Davis was on Butler, backing off to allow long jump shots that Butler didn’t want to take, but close enough to close out with his unique length. Butler actually started off the game as hot as he finished Game 3, going 5 for 5, but each bucket came with teammates finding a way to screen Davis off Butler. First Miami got Dwight Howard switched over to Butler by screening Davis with Bam Adebayo, and Butler drove by. Next, Kelly Olynyk aggressively screened Davis off, and moments later, Kendrick Nunn screened Davis to allow a Butler floater.

His fourth field goal came off yet another switch, as Olynyk again screened Davis, leaving Kyle Kuzma to defend Butler. Finally, with LeBron picking him up, Butler beat the buzzer with a long two, with L.A. leading 27-22.

But from that point on, the Lakers adjusted, stopped allowing switches when Miami sent a man at Davis, and AD made it increasingly tough on Butler. A typical example came at the 6:35 mark of the third quarter. Davis refused to allow Herro to screen him, stepping back into the paint, and converging on Butler to contest his shot at the rim. Butler went 0 for 2 in the second quarter, and 0 for 5 in the third quarter. Davis continued to go under all of the screens, giving Butler space that he really didn’t want.

“I had the task of guarding Jimmy Butler, and so I just tried to be locked in to him,” explained Davis. “We know the last game, he kind of just took over and imposed his will on the game on both ends of the floor, and we just tried to give him a different look. Tried to make him shoot over a contested hand, finish over the length at the rim. Just make it tough for him.”

With Davis resting to start the fourth quarter, Butler managed a tough bucket through the contest of Markieff Morris. He did manage to get around Davis once at the 6:27 mark, when Duncan Robinson set a good screen on AD, but his only other hoop was a concession layup with L.A. up nine in the final minute after a dagger three from Davis on the other end.

All told, even with the 5 for 5 start, Butler finished 8 of 17 from the field and 6 of 7 at the line for 22 points. He was a -11 in 43 minutes of action.

That had a lot to do with AD.

“Yeah, that's why he's the Defensive Player of the Year,” said LeBron. “We said that all year. His ability to play one through five, guard anybody on the floor, take the challenge, not only guard on the perimeter, continue to protect the paint. Guards drive on him. It's hard to score on him … that guy can do everything defensively. Guarding the ball, guard the post, slide his feet with guards, contest, can body up with bigs. I mean, need I say more?”

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Brow Factor 〰

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“Obviously, Anthony's matchup on Butler was a big factor in our defensive efficiency,” added Vogel. “He did a great job. Jimmy is so great, it's hard to even slow him down but AD did a great job. It starts there … set a big tone. That was a big part of our plan.

Expect to see Davis on Butler for much of Game 5, as well. And expect Miami to do their best to get Davis switched off him in perhaps the most important of several chess moves.

For the fifth time this postseason, the Lakers will be wearing their Kobe inspired and designed Black Mamba uniforms.

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LeBron was asked about the jerseys themselves on Thursday.

“Obviously, until you get your hands on them, you don't get to see the detail in them. It's super-duper detailed. It has that snake Mamba print on it. It means something. Something more than just a uniform. It represents an individual who gave the franchise 20 years of his blood, sweat and tears and his dedication to his craft, both on and off the floor, to make that franchise be proud of him, and hopefully vice versa.”

“Just to be playing in the Mamba jersey means -- it's humbling to us and means a lot,” added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was huge in L.A.’s Game 4 win, with five straight critical points in crunchtime. “We say we don't want to lose in the Mamba jerseys, which we haven't done yet, so, you know, we’re here to take the last game.”

Here are L.A.’s results in their Mamba jerseys thus far:
- Game 4 vs. Portland: 135-115
- Game 2 vs. Houston: 117-109
- Game 2 vs. Denver: 105-103
- Game 2 vs. Miami: 124-114

Since the heartbreaking tragedy in January, the Lakers have devoted their season to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. They say “Mamba on three!” at the break of every huddle.

With one more win in his jersey, one more time playing with maximum effort, heart and belief, they can deliver what Kobe valued most as a basketball player: a championship.

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