Miami’s Improved Showing Does Little to Brighten the Finals Forecast

The Heat were more competitive on Friday than they were in the opening game of the Finals, but it may not matter.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Before these NBA Finals reach what seems like an inevitable conclusion, all hail the team that hates this sentence. The Miami Heat does not want our pats on the back, even if pats on the back were safe right now. As Erik Spoelstra said Friday night, “We don’t give a s— what everybody else thinks.”

Miami trails the Lakers 2-0 in the series. The Heat now must win four out of five games against LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they must do it without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, or with an injured Adebayo and Dragic. It would be a miracle. The Heat do not believe in miracles. But the Heat do believe in work.

“What will it take?” Spoelstra said. “Whatever is necessary. It’s simple as that. If you want something badly enough, you’ll figure it out.”

Or, you know, you won’t. But how can you not love this team? These guys arrived in July, they made it all the way to October, and in Game 1 of the Finals, their team fell apart. Dragic tore his plantar fascia. Adebayo injured his shoulder. Maybe on the long list of lousy things that happened in 2020, this doesn’t register, but it stunk nonetheless.

And yet the Heat did exactly what the Heat always do: compete, play hard, believe. This is how the Heat got back to the Finals without tanking, this is how the Heat made it through the bubble, and this is how the Heat will lose the Finals. I mean play. This is how the team will play in the Finals.

Game 2 was a strange beast. With Adebayo out, Los Angeles had an enormous height advantage—there were times when Davis could eat a bowl of soup off the head of whoever was guarding him—and yet, the Lakers shot 20 more three-pointers than the Heat did. The Lakers shot 34 percent from three and 66 percent from two. The Lakers seemed pleased with their shot selection afterward, and a lot of the missed threes were open threes by good shooters, but it felt like a trap. The Lakers can probably beat the Heat with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shooting open threes, but they can definitely beat the Heat by having Davis dunk over and maim his opponents.

Davis and James made 29 of 45 shots. They scored 65 points. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers got away from Davis. He can score 50 on the Bam-less Heat. Let him do it.

“It’s tough because they’re open a lot,” Davis said of his team’s shooters. “[The Heat] want you to shoot the three.”

We ended up with a result that satisfied nobody. Spoelstra admired his team’s effort after Game 1’s dud: “Certainly it was a much better competitive disposition. Our guys brought it.” But his team lost. The Lakers won, but they gave up some easy baskets, and they will have a long conversation about how Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder and Kendrick Nunn combined for 49 points.

Both teams played like they knew the Lakers were the better team and could prove it whenever they wanted, using that old basketball play: Give Ball To Tall Man.

“In those moments of truth, when we had opportunities to get the game closer, it usually seemed to end up in some offensive rebound or something near the basket,” Spoelstra said. “But this is the deal.”

It is the deal. He is smart enough to understand it but feisty enough to fight it.

“Look, I love these guys,” Spoelstra said. “I love the way we compete. We have to figure out a way to overcome this.”

Spoelstra admired Heat Culture Captain Jimmy Butler, who injured his left ankle in Game 1 but played 45 minutes in Game 2: “Forty-five minutes of everything he had, and career high in assists (13), and he’s going to have to get to another level.” 

Alas, getting to another level might require stilts. At one point, Butler drove into the paint but was surrounded by taller players, and then Crowder drove and found that those players had not shrunk, and then Butler drove to and got caught in the forest again. Butler passed to Nunn, who hit a corner three, so it all worked out. But it usually won’t.

Also, if you find yourself in a situation where Duncan Robinson is guarding LeBron James, start drinking.

Still, this was close-ish, because the Lakers had enough lapses—at one point, Kyle Kuzma tried an inexplicable 180 no-look pass to Mickey Mouse—and the Heat kept competing. These guys will not go down without a fight. They will go down with a fight instead. Much more admirable, you see?


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