Basketball, Columnists, Sports

The 2-3 Zone, an NBA Finals update

The “2”

I think Jimmy Butler had a triple shot of espresso from his Big Face Coffee business before Sunday night’s Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

In a surprise win with the Miami Heat missing two starters, Butler had one of the greatest Finals performances of the 21st century by a player not named LeBron James.  

Butler became the first player to ever score more points, grab more rebounds and dish more assists than James in an NBA Finals game. He also became the third player to secure a 40-point triple-double in the finals.

Everything about Butler’s performance was perfect. He attacked the basket relentlessly. He infected his teammates with his competitive spirit. And it all resulted in a Heat win that almost no one saw coming, except for probably Butler.

Unfortunately for Butler, the Finals series between the Lakers and Heat is almost sure to be a Lakers victory at this point.

While the potential return of Bam Adebayo, and the less likely return of Goran Dragic, would certainly give the Heat a huge boost and might even give them the strength to push the series to six games, the other team is led by James and Anthony Davis.

The Heat deserve a lot of credit for their Game 3 performance. They were wreaking havoc defensively and hitting their shots. But at the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, they only held a five-point lead in a game where James had eight turnovers and Davis dealt with foul trouble.

Both of the Lakers’ stars had the type of performance they likely won’t repeat in this series.

I expect James to look more assertive as a playmaker and for Davis to be more dominant offensively in the next two or three games that the Lakers need to win this series.

 The “3”

There are plenty of interesting wrinkles in this Finals series outside of the stars. The supporting casts for both the Lakers and Heat play an important role in the outcome of the game, even if the play of James, Davis and Butler seemed to be an indicator of the end result for each of the first three games.

One of the most impactful role-players in the series thus far is Kelly Olynyk, and not in a good way.

When Adebayo went out with an injury, the Heat were instantly in trouble. The Lakers have arguably the two best interior scorers in the league with James and Davis. And the threat of Dwight Howard as a rim runner probably gave Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra more fits about having to replace Adebayo.

To substitute Adebayo, the Heat had to choose between running a small ball lineup or using Olynyk or Meyers Leonard as their sole big man. The small lineup with Andre Iguodala at center cannot be sustained over a long period of time. The Lakers’ size and length can just score too easily against it.

That meant using a player with a bit more size. And with Leonard being good for little other than an energy boost, Olynyk was the answer — and he has been abysmal. 

Despite scoring 24 points in Game 2, his defense was probably the biggest reason for Miami’s loss in that game. And even with strong shooting efforts, he continues to be a minus defensively.

More disappointing from the Heat, though, is Tyler Herro. The youngest player to ever start in the Finals was amazing in the Eastern Conference Finals. And I expected him to continue to find his shot against the Lakers. Through three games, he is shooting nearly 35 percent from the floor and less than 30 percent from deep.

Herro needs to be better for the Heat to have any sort of chance to win the series.

On the Lakers’ side of things, it’s their two starting wings who really need to step up for the team to play its best. Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are shooting embarrassingly poorly. They’ve shot 9-for-40 from three in the first three games.

With those two guys being fed a stream of open threes by James, they need to shoot better.

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