At shootaround Monday morning, LeBron James spoke glowingly about his old club as a “top tier franchise” and one he has affection for. It didn’t stop the NBA’s senior citizen from punching in 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and serving the hosts another close match as his partner Anthony Davis watched from the sideline.
Early, AD and James broke past perimeter defenses for six close-range baskets on post-ups and drive-bys against man-to-man coverage. Miami countered with 33 points, equaling LA’s output, behind Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, logging eight of 15 shots from the starters in the first quarter. Off the bench, Duncan Robinson hit a pair of 3-pointers against lax coverage and cut inside for a layup off a bounce pass by #13.
In the second frame, the Heat didn’t miss any of its seven shots in the paint. LA’s Cam Reddish was lost defending Butler off-ball. Even Robinson beat Taurean Prince from the wing to the cup for two points and dusted Austin Reaves to supply Thomas Bryant with a layup.
For the Lakers, Reaves produced in pick and roll, transition and on a putback. James tallied two more field goals before intermission by bulldozing into the lane. Davis managed five minutes of action in quarter two, not looking right as he dealt with pain in his groin after a collision with Adebayo.
At halftime, the Heat was ahead 62-59, scoring 13 points off the Lakers’ turnovers but just four on second tries. Its guests had capitalized on 55.8% of its attempts and recorded 34 points in the paint.
In the third quarter, D’Angelo Russell got past Kyle Lowry, Haywood Highsmith and Josh Richardson for layups and a jumper. James scored two more buckets on the break. And Prince got loose into the lane using a dribble handoff and running behind a pindown. For the Heat, Adebayo and Butler combined for 20 of its 28 points.
Through 3 intervals, Miami had taken care of the ball, turning it over eight times. Then the fourth started with Adebayo and Butler getting a breather on the bench as the Heat made half its shots until both were back on the floor. The downside was that until that happened, the Heat coughed up four possessions in almost five minutes and would lose the ball four more times by game’s end.
In between, LA’s Russell was ejected for clapping in front of the refs and then using “vulgarity” toward one during a stoppage.
Jamie Jaquez Jr. logged consecutive field goals, pivoting through lane and racing on the break to give Miami a 10-point lead before he was subbed out for Butler. Comically, when JB tracked Reddish’s drive inside the box and cleanly contested it by going straight up, the refs blew a whistle.
Reddish was getting in position to take his free throws, but coach Erik Spoelstra angrily walked into the lane, demanding a review. Upon inspection, the officials decided that Butler did not foul but that Adebayo had as a helper when his hand quickly swiped at the ball. Reddish made one of two.
For the rest of the match, the Heat supplied just two of its last 10 tries as James and Christian Wood sizzled on rim rolls plus catch-and-shoot jumpers. The Lakers shrunk the deficit to one as James powered through Richardson, posting him for a bucket with a freebie.
En route to the finish line, Miami misfired its final five shots, and Adebayo committed a traveling violation with nine seconds left to give the Lakers one closing opportunity. Butler guarded James’ drive from the top of the key to the depths of the paint, forcing a pass to Reddish in the left corner that bounced off the iron. The Heat won 108-107, led by Adebayo’s triple-double with 22 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists, the first in organization history with so many boards.
At the Lakers’ postgame presser, coach Darvin Ham praised his group’s effort despite the loss. He also was pleased with the look Reddish had on the final play. “We encourage him. He works on that shot every single day…it’s not that close of a game without [Reddish’s] contributions on the defensive end and some of the things he did offensively.”
In the Heat’s press conference room, Spoelstra said there were more positives than negatives in his club’s one-point win. “I’m not going to be a downer about this one. It’s a good win. Obviously, we have to clean up some things. More [of] the decision making…”
The Heat’s overall record improved to 3-4, and it will not practice on Tuesday.