When you’re a team that wants to win the NBA title, now, there is no such thing as a morale victory. Kobe Bryant may have had a big fourth quarter, but he, and the Los Angeles Lakers, played a bad game of basketball. LeBron James was too good for the Miami Heat to drop an important road game against such an opponent.
James getting rest in the final quarter the previous night as the Heat were taking care of business against the Warriors meant that he was going to play big minutes against the Lakers. How big? He finished with 39 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals. Since James and Wade entered the NBA, this kind of stat line has been put up 18 times; 13 of them by Wade and James.
You can’t ask for more from your superstar, but the Heat still needed some clutch shooting from Ray Allen, enjoying James’ vision and ability to run the floor, scoring 7 of his 9 points in the final five minutes of the game, something that reminded everyone of the Heat earlier this season, when they were building up winning streaks of double digit wins.
The Heat ran the floor well, almost too well through the night. They played excellent defense on a team that looked lost offensively too many times; stalled and overthinking things. The Lakers turned the ball over 20 times, getting outscored 25-0 in transition. The Heat turned the ball over a season-low six times, while outscoring the home team 68-28 in the paint. So much for Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant improving on defense.
Criticizing Wade? Wade finished with 27 points and 5 assists. Chris Bosh had to sacrifice his numbers by shooting mostly from the outside and drawing Howard or any other big man outside to him, but that worked to the Heat’s benefit, who simply had no problem scoring in the paint. Bryant said after the game that defense wasn’t the problem: he needed help on offense, especially in the fourth, in which he scored 13 of his 22 points, but that seems to be a misread of the situation.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to make 20-of-21 (95.2%) shots from inside 5 feet. That is the most field goals made and highest percentage the duo has combined for on such shots since they became teammates.
Dwight Howard didn’t have a great time on the offensive glass as some might think. The Heat didn’t think twice about fouling the Lakers’ center, making the All-Star game on his first year with his new team. He took only 7 shots from the field but went to the line 13 times, making only 5 shots. Those 8 points weren’t enough for a win or even sending the game to overtime, but when you add up all of Howard’s misses from the line this season, you’re not too far from a few more victories the Lakers should be picking up.
The Heat’s defense was, as it was in the win against the Warriors, the key. The lineups kept changing, but the Heat never lost a beat – locking down the paint by fouling Howard every chance they got and not being lazy on the perimeter. That left very few easy shots for anyone, including Bryant on an awful 8-25 game from the field. He was only 1-5 from inside 10 feet, never shooting uncontested, and losing every physical battle he had with James and Wade. That forced Bryant to shoot from an average of 17.6 feet instead of his regular 13.9.
The Heat proved that they’re not that troubled and weak – with LeBron James this good and a defense that doesn’t give anyone an inch, they’re still quite a force to be reckoned with. The Lakers? They found out what happens when they meet a team that’s out of their league.