The Miami Heat faced the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA Finals rematch, which Miami got the best of them this time around. It went down to the wire, which Jimmy Butler got to the line when they needed it most, while the Heat played great defense down the stretch to get the win. Here are five takeaways from this game…
#1: Kendrick Nunn was cooking early on.
In a game televised by ABC on Saturday night, headlined by LeBron James and Jimmy Butler, not many expected Kendrick Nunn to be the biggest story of the first quarter. Nunn scored 15 points in the first on 6 for 7 shooting, looking as comfortable as ever with the ball in his hands. He was 3 for 3 from beyond the arc as well, shooting on the move on many of those looks, which seems to be when he’s most effective. The floater is also becoming a staple of his offensive game, since he rises up with one-hand push shots from just about anywhere on the floor. After the first quarter scoring display, he didn’t attempt one shot in the second quarter. And while that may appear to be a negative element of the game, it speaks to the growth of Nunn being aware of the pacing of the game, allowing the game to come to him.
#2: Bam Adebayo comes out with a necessary aggressive mindset.
On a night where the Lakers were without their best rim protector, Anthony Davis, it was clear there were winnable match-ups for Bam Adebayo to seize. And well, he did just that early on, playing above the rim on many possessions, which seemed to be a game-plan by Erik Spoelstra. He scored 14 points in the first half on 7 for 9 shooting, and there were still times that he could’ve been a bit more selfish scoring wise. But selfish and Adebayo don’t really mix, which is why he altered between aggression and play-maker throughout, controlling the game in the non-Butler minutes. Those minutes are more important than ever at the moment, since Goran Dragic being out forced Coach Spo to go this route, relying on Adebayo’s presence without Butler.
#3: The Goran Dragic absence is noticed in spurts.
When discussing pure takeaways from this game from my perspective, the Goran Dragic absence was probably one of the biggest. Dragic has always been the guy for Miami to save them in tough spots, who can generate offense when everybody else cools off a bit. And well, Miami went through that stretch in the second quarter, but the only issue was that Coach Spo couldn’t turn to his bench to tell Dragic to try and get them out of this hole. As much as people can discuss certain losses lately not correlating with Dragic missing time, since a 34 year old shouldn’t be relied on this heavily anyway, that’s just plainly incorrect. It’s not that he needs to be the leading scorer as he did in the bubble last season, but he just needs to share the floor with others to force Miami back into their natural offensive flow.
#4: Jimmy Butler controls the third quarter.
While the Los Angeles Lakers immediately crawled back into the game to begin the second half, it looked like Miami’s high level play in this game finally came to an end. But well, that was until Jimmy Butler decided to step up. As Tyler Herro was listed questionable to return at halftime with a hip contusion, Miami’s offensive options became limited, which meant Butler needed to do Butler-like things. And that category included getting to the basket, which leads to getting to the free throw line. Butler had 0 free throw attempts in the first half, which is a rare sight for him. He began to increase that a bit more in the third, showcasing his will to be aggressive during a stretch that it was absolutely necessary. And that was the only thing that kept Miami afloat in a time of need.
#5: The Gabe Vincent-Max Strus playing time decisions became crucial.
Who would’ve thought the minutes between both two-way players would be crucial against the reigning NBA champions? But here we are. The reasoning for Gabe Vincent getting the nod over Max Strus lately had to do with adding an extra ball-handler on the floor. And that’s exactly what Coach Spo went with again tonight, except Tyler Herro exiting the game led to another rotation adjustment. Strus got thrown into the fire in the third quarter without getting into any type of flow, leading to a terrible shooting stretch from beyond the arc, going 0 for 8 from three. As much as people can criticize Erik Spoelstra’s decisions between the two-way guys, there must be a realistic approach that we’re discussing two-way guys. There is limited production that will occur from those type of guys, especially when facing a team like the Lakers, and a player like LeBron who can attack weaknesses pretty quickly.