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#pounditSaturday, December 5, 2020

How the Los Angeles Lakers have built their NBA Finals lead

LeBron James

Following Jimmy Butler’s 40 point, 11 rebound, 13 assist masterpiece in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat looked poised to truly threaten the Los Angeles Lakers. But in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night, Tyler Herro and the rest of the Heat learned there is no standing in the way of the King’s destiny.

By winning Game 4, the Lakers established a stronghold in the series, taking a 3-1 lead — an advantage LeBron James has never squandered before in his extensive playoff history. While the Heat, like seemingly every other basketball team in the world, don’t have an answer for the league’s most potent duo of James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ shooting and rebounding have been vital to their success.

Los Angeles finished in the bottom third of the NBA during the regular season, connecting on just 11.0 threes per game. In the Finals, that number has skyrocketed to 14.8. The Lakers’ increased volume in threes can be partially attributed to Miami’s defensive gameplan; the Heat’s swarming zone scheme can be prone to yielding threes. However, the most substantial factor is their ball movement, spearheaded by their two stars.

The Lakers have taken 86 wide-open threes (threes in which the closest defender is more than six feet away) throughout the first four games. That number easily bests the 50 that they have conceded to the Heat defensively. More importantly, the Lakers have converted on these looks shooting 38 percent compared to Miami’s 32. In Game 4, their inability to knock down the simplest of looks is what cost them the game.

While Los Angeles was a solid rebounding team throughout the season, their aggression on the glass has reached new heights. With the importance of every possession maximized, the Lakers’ ability to steal extra possessions has been crucial for controlling the tempo. Their ravenous effort on the glass has resulted in 25 extra possessions, as they hold a 46-21 advantage in offensive rebounds.

For as great as James has been throughout the postseason, it’s been Davis who has delivered the late-game heroics for Los Angeles. Up six in the final minute of Game 4, the Lakers turned to the Brow yet again.

On this play, one Davis ball screen set the Miami defense into disarray. After containing Rondo’s drive, Adebayo quickly shuffled to get back in front of Davis. Davis then took one jab step to size up Adebayo’s positioning. The second he detected an opening, he released the game-sealing triple without hesitation.

Adebayo represents Miami’s only chance at limiting Davis. The Heat sorely missed his defensive presence in Games 2 and 3. Davis has consistently been able to find the openings in the zone while displaying the ability to easily power through undersized wing defenders like Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala.

For the Heat to flip the script and pull off the first 3-1 comeback in the Finals since James immortalized himself to the city of Cleveland in 2016, they will need a collective effort. But that effort must start with Butler.

While another 40-point triple-double seems unlikely, Miami needs its star to actively hunt his shot. Butler can fall victim to passing out of looks for himself as he always tries to make the right play; with a player of his caliber, sometimes the best look is calling his own number even if he’s contested. Butler and the Heat will need to be perfect if they want any chance of mounting a comeback against one of the greatest postseason performers of all time.

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