2020 NBA Finals | Lakers vs. Heat

5 things we learned from Game 1 of 2020 Finals

Five things we learned from the Los Angeles Lakers’ 116-98 victory against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2020 Finals Wednesday on the NBA campus in Orlando.

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1. A quick change for Miami

No, there were no spinal injuries among the Heat’s multiple mishaps in Game 1. But they could have felt a little whiplash after getting outscored 75-30 during a stretch of barely 22 minutes.

It began with their own early run, opening a 23-10 lead deep into the first quarter. Then came the Lakers’ 19-3 rush to close out that quarter. The second quarter was a mismatch, won by L.A. when it outshot the Heat 63.2% to 36.4%.

That was followed by the Lakers’ 22-7 start to the second half in slightly less than six minutes. It was 87-55 when the smoke cleared. That swing of 45 points rendered most of what followed irrelevant, except perhaps for Lakers coach Frank Vogel’s film review before Game 2 to fend off any overconfidence in his crew.

For Miami, the freefall from that early lead to donesville was like a magician pulling a silk table cloth off a magnificently set table, but sending the china, glassware, centerpiece and good silver flying across the dining room.

The Lakers did it with unusual 3-point proficiency. They hit 11 of their first 17 in Game 1 and totaled 15-of-38. That’s their third most 3-pointers made in the postseason and eighth most in all of 2019-20. L.A. had ranked 23rd in takes (31.6) and makes (11.0) during the regular season, 21st in accuracy (.349), so they outdid themselves across the board Wednesday.

Miami’s zone, so honed and effective in the East finals against Boston, ran and hid this time.

2. Plantar fasciitis is no joke

As vexing as it is to spell, plantar fasciitis – trauma to the thick band of tissue that runs from one’s heel bone toward the toes – is even worse to play on for an NBA player. That’s what Miami faces with Goran Dragic suffering a reported tear in his left foot in the second quarter.

“Plantar fasciitis sucks,” said Joakim Noah, one of the many who have been hobbled by it through the years. “It feels like you have needles underneath your feet while you’re playing.”

Known among trainers as “the Achilles heel of NBA players,” the injury has afflicted a multitude of players at varying degrees of severity, including Noah, Pau Gasol, Jason Kidd, Joe Johnson, Damian Lillard, Nene, Derrick Favors and Steve Francis.

It particularly hampers running, cutting and jumping — three somewhat useful activities in basketball. It is best treated with orthotics, injections, immobilization and rest, two of which Miami has little time for.

So as much as it stunk for the Heat that Bam Adebayo aggravated a shoulder injury and was done after 21 minutes, as much as Jimmy Butler twisting an ankle gouged into his effectiveness from that point, Dragic limping off was the worst. And could settle this Finals almost before it began.

Dragic had been the Heat’s leading scorer through the playoffs, averaging 19.9 points per game. His usage rate of 27.2 in 16 postseason games has been higher than in any of his 12 NBA regular seasons (it was 25.7 in his All-Star season of 2017-18, when he averaged 17.3 points). He is a creative, slippery offensive player, initiating trouble for any defense and often bailing out Miami deep into shot clocks.

Kendrick Nunn, the All-Rookie first-teamer who logged only 23 minutes in the East finals and none at all in the last three games, scored 18 points mostly in garbage time of Game 1. He is Miami’s best option, barring a miracle recovery by or remarkable treatment of Dragic’s sore foot gets him back to at least 80 percent capability.

3. The Finals are always defense first

That’s the reason the Lakers started big, with both Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard in the lineup, only to subsequently go small. Trailing by double digits so early in the game will scuttle plans like that, pronto.

That big lineup wasn’t equipped to deal with the Heat’s early 3-point proficiency (welcome back, Jae Crowder) or Miami’s pick-and-roll forays. So no matter how much Vogel wanted to flex his team’s size advantage at the other end, he had to find better matchups.

Consider: On a night when Danny Green was plus-21 and the L.A. bench pack of Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso all finished with double-digit plus ratings, Howard in his 15 minutes was minus-2.

Miami is facing the more acute defensive problem now. It needs Tyler Herro as a scorer and Duncan Robinson as a shooter, but both were treated like raw meat by LeBron James and his teammates.

James, as we’ve seen in other playoffs when the pace slows to the half-court, all but points to the mismatch he wants as if he’s at one of the finest steakhouses in the land, making his selection off the server’s tray. The Lakers run a little action to isolate the lonely bone-in ribeye, and nature’s food chain takes over.

By the way, when it’s LeBron licking his chops over Herro or Robinson, the physiques of those tender Heat defenders feel like more injuries waiting to happen.

Herro was a minus-35 in Game 1. And even though Robinson was a good-enough-to-lose minus-8, he didn’t make a shot, missing the mere three 3-pointers he launched in 27 minutes.

What about Andre Iguodala? Certainly Iguodala has the resume defensively and great experience against James. But the difference between James’ 35 years on the planet and Iggy’s 36 turned into 35 Wednesday, the gap between the Lakers’ star’s plus-10 and the Miami vet’s minus-25.

4. Anthony Davis can win the Bill Russell Finals MVP

If he continues to play the way he did in Game 1 (34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots in 38 minutes). If that keeps him about five points and three boards, on average, ahead of James in the stats when this is over, while staying within an assist or two. And if James keeps talking up his younger teammate the way he did after this one (“He was, once again, a force in every facet the game”).

Otherwise, that award remains James’ to lose. His results were sufficiently impressive – 25 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, a couple 3-pointers and a handful of highlights – to keep him as both the sentimental (he’s old) and still-formidable favorite.

5. Still ‘next man up?’

Let’s see how much the Heat and the media talk about Miami’s vaunted culture when they’ve got as many as three starters in the trainer’s room in the hours between Games 1 and 2. One thing culture is not is a bunch of backups going against the LeBron James and the Anthony Davis, trying to win four out of six now.

There will be no sympathy from James, at least not until it’s over. Back in 2015, he had to play a Finals without Cleveland’s Nos. 2 and 3, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Against Golden State. Soldiering on with the likes of Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov.

So in addition to plugging the leaks of his defense, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has to be prepared to try that with replacement parts. Remember, thanks to the bubble format — and the fact we’re watching Finals games in October — there are no extended breaks in this series, no travel days folded in. The only gap of one additional day comes between Game 4 Tuesday and Game 5 next Friday.

Do the math. That might be too late.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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