This year’s NBA Finals matchup, featuring the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers, has proven to be an excellent series amidst two vastly different rosters. Although it’s certainly not the finals matchup predicted by analysts and fans alike, both teams have fought hard to earn their spot. The bubble has made this postseason tougher than usual, with the stresses of being trapped in Disney World for so long compounding with the physical demands of the sport. Both teams are giving it their all so they can potentially leave the bubble with a championship.
The Miami Heat find success through their deep roster with seven players that have high scoring potential. Shooting guard Jimmy Butler has led this team in a career year and continues to show his dominance in the clutch, including a 40-point triple-double performance to keep the Heat in the series during Game 4. Star center Bam Abedayo has also taken up a large role in the paint and on defense, as he has been asked to defend some of the league’s best offensive players throughout the playoffs, now including Lakers’ forward Anthony Davis. Miami also has an excellent outer court in marksman small forwards Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragić, and emergent rookie shooting guard Tyler Herro. If all of Miami’s scorers are hot from range on the same night, then they are a force that even the Lakers can’t overcome. This roster, filled with youth and underrated players, led by Butler, has really stunned the league by balling out. Butler, who departed from the Philadelphia 76ers to Miami in the offseason, was branded as the problem within the 76ers’ locker room. In retrospect, Philadelphia probably feels foolish for letting Butler walk as opposed to listening to him on their woes as a squad.
A vastly different squad than that of Miami with their youth and long-range shooting, the Los Angeles Lakers find their success by dominating the rim with their big men and playing strong defense with a roster full of veterans. The Lakers have two of the league’s best players in Davis and forward LeBron James. Davis has averaged 26.1 points and 9.2 rebounds on the season along with being a monster in the fourth quarter. James has been consistently in the conversation for the MVP for 15 straight seasons and continues to show his dominance, appearing in his ninth finals series since 2010. LeBron’s continued to make everybody around him better while averaging 27.1 points, 7.4 assists and 7.4 rebounds. The Lakers also have some key role players in veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, shooting guard Danny Green and forward Kyle Kuzma.
Game 1 of the finals couldn’t have gone any worse for the Miami Heat. The Lakers took an early lead and held it throughout the contest for a 116-98 win. Los Angeles dominated the paint, out-rebounding the Heat by 18 boards. Miami also lost Adebayo and Dragić to injuries, causing early speculation that this finals matchup would be lopsided going forward.
During Game 2, the Lakers took a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter and held it once more for the 124-114 win. During the win, James and Davis combined for a dominant 65 points and 23 rebounds, blowing the Heat out of the water. Butler put up an impressive stat line of 25 points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds, but the lack of contribution from his teammates outside the arc truly hindered the effort. Miami hit 11 3-pointers on 27 attempts, but nailed 31 of their 34 free throws, keeping the contest close throughout the night.
The Heat entered a must-win Game 3. Abedayo was one game away from returning, so a win could turn the tide for them as reinforcements returned for the following contest. Unlike their previous two contests, Miami matched Los Angeles bucket for bucket through three quarters, with neither team gaining a significant lead. The fourth quarter quickly became all Butler, as he closed the game with 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists along with the victory for Miami. Even without Adebayo to be a force in the paint, the Heat managed to lock down James and Davis, containing them for a combined 40 points.
Before Game 4, Abedayo was announced as eligible to play, returning from his neck injury. This game became a very physical defensive battle from the start and came down to the final frame of action once more after trading score for score throughout the first three-quarters of action. During the fourth, James and Butler traded baskets down the stretch, but the Lakers size advantage led to them outrebounding the Heat, gaining the slight edge en route to a 102-96 win. During the win, James dropped 28 points along with 12 rebounds.
It was now a win or go home situation for Miami, and from the start of Game 5, they had a true dog mentality. The Heat held a lead all game, but with three minutes left in the game they found themselves tied. For six straight possessions, James and Butler traded baskets. Butler hit multiple free throws in a row to gain a slight advantage for Miami with seconds left on the clock. On the final possession, down two points, James dished the ball out to an open Green, who missed the wide-open three, giving the Heat the 111-108 lead.
With the Lakers up 3-2, they get another chance to close out the Heat Sunday night at 7:30. Watch as the Butler-led Heat try to extend the series to Game 7.