The Lakers took a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals Tuesday night.They cliched game four 102-96 in a close-fought battle, as what most saw as the most competitive game of the finals thus far.
Anthony Davis put on a stellar defensive performance, defending Jimmy Butler and managing four blocks in the game.
Both the Lakers and the Heat have had impressive showings in this series so far, most prominently LA’s commanding game one victory, going on a 75-30 run in that affair, and Miami’s game three victory, where star Jimmy Butler recorded a 40-point triple double.
Butler is one of only three players ever to accomplish such a feat, one other being LeBron James, but Butler also became the first player ever to outperform LeBron in a finals game in points, rebounds, and assists, including any of James’ teammates. Butler’s performance was historic, and the Lakers committed one of the biggest sins a favorite can do in any sport series: they gave the undermanned underdogs hope.
So where do we stand going into game five? What looked like a sure-fire sweep after games one and two now looks like anything but. The Heat seemed to figure out how to disrupt the Lakers, and more specifically, Anthony Davis’ flow in game three, who looked absolutely unstoppable in the first two games.
Though Davis’ early foul trouble did help the Heat out in this strategy, his aggression was clearly compromised by not wanting to pick up an offensive foul. Whereas Davis tallied 34 points and nine rebounds in game one, and 32 points and 14 rebounds in game two, he only put up 15 and five in game three. His plus/minus, sometimes a misleading stat, does not seem to be this time, as he was a -26 in this game, while in the first two games he was a +23 and +10, respectively.
Davis and LeBron — perhaps more so the former — were both sloppy from the onset of game three. The Heat played with more urgency, and even though Davis had to be pulled after picking up two early fouls, his plus/minus in the game was indicative of how even when he was on the floor, he was not his usual self.
Game four stayed close in the first half, with the Lakers leading 49-47. Anthony Davis had eight points and six rebounds, and LeBron had eight of his own points to go along with four assists. However, LeBron also had five turnovers in the first half, a bad look for such a superstar, especially one who was uncharacteristically sloppy in the previous game.
But James turned it around in the second half, dictating the tempo and scoring 20 points. Davis as well showed his impact on the game beyond simply numbers, which is a critique star players often hear. You can put up gaudy numbers, but can you find out a way to get your team the win in those crucial, decisive moments?
The Lakers will head into Friday’s game five with a must-win mentality. Beyond just wanting to get out of the bubble, they know they are getting The Heat’s best shot, and it would be unwise to give Miami confidence.
This Finals has been extraordinary to watch because of the matchups, the starpower, the role players coming up big, and the coaching adjustments. Keep in mind: Miami only lost three games total in the playoffs before this round against the Lakers. And on the other side, the Lakers have yet to play a team as well-coached and led as this Heat squad is. Friday is sure to be a historic night.