The Los Angeles Lakers picked up a pivotal Game 4 victory over the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals on Tuesday evening. Though the game was not always aesthetically pleasing with whistles and hiccups throughout, both teams left everything on the floor, and the Lakers improved to a blistering 56-0 this season when leading after three quarters.
During the stretch run, there was plenty of drama leading up to a memorable jump shot from Anthony Davis and an eventual 102-96 victory for the Lakers to take a 3-1 lead. With that as the backdrop, here are three takeaways from what transpired, all with an eye toward Game 5 on Friday evening in Orlando.
1. The Lakers received important contributions from their supporting cast
Ultimately, Davis and LeBron James combined for 50 of the 102 points for the Lakers, and the team’s dynamic duo will garner the majority of the headlines as a result. However, it was anything but a perfect game, at least offensively, from James and Davis, and the Lakers needed quite a bit of help from their supporting cast.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has arguably been the Lakers’ third-best player in the Bubble, and he was undisputedly so on this night. The veteran shooting guard finished with 15 points and five assists in 32 minutes, making all the right plays on both ends of the floor.
First, Caldwell-Pope started hot, scoring eight of the first ten points for the Lakers to counteract a slow start from the headliners.
Miami switches the LeBron/AD P&R with Jimmy and Bam involved. On the post up watch Herro. Miami is showing help as Jimmy forces AD left (towards the help). Herro gambles for the steal, makes the effort to rotate but wild closeout and KCP hits. pic.twitter.com/PxXD1TFanM
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 7, 2020
Then, after his scoring production slowed, Caldwell-Pope scored five enormous points in the fourth quarter, first connecting on a three-pointer to put the Lakers up five, then attacking the rim and finishing to help put more space between Los Angeles and Miami.
Miami again able to guard the Lakers here. Elbow action, Rondo screens for AD right into a P&R with LeBron. Miami switches but Lakers go right to attacking Robinson in P&R. Butler able to slide over, Robinson didn't have to show. Gets beat on the recover. Huge drive from KCP. pic.twitter.com/deBoCwuEtf
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 7, 2020
Though Caldwell-Pope was the most important supporting piece for Los Angeles, he wasn’t alone. Kyle Kuzma knocked down a few key jumpers, Rajon Rondo grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists, Danny Green found his footing throughout the game, and Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris both made key plays when needed. All told, the Lakers’ supporting players shot only 10-for-30 from three-point range, but Frank Vogel decided to go small, giving Dwight Howard only eight minutes of playing time, and that decision was rewarded by sparkling defense from small-ball lineups and just enough space to help Los Angeles snatch the victory.
2. The Heat miss Goran Dragic immensely
Though Goran Dragic was listed as doubtful and it would have taken a heroic effort for the veteran to get near the court in Game 5, his presence was deeply missed. Dragic, who revitalized his career in averaging 19.9 points per game so far in the postseason, provides the Heat with another on-ball creator that can get his own shot and set up others. While Jimmy Butler carried an immense workload in dominating Game 4, mitigating the absence of Dragic, it was exceptionally evident that Miami was one creator short in this game.
Kendrick Nunn struggled mightily, shooting 2-for-11 from the floor and missing all five of his two-point attempts. While Nunn enjoyed a strong rookie season, he was simply out of his depth in this spot, visibly forcing the action in an uncomfortable manner, and lacking in basic decision-making.
It was defensible to at least try Nunn in this game, especially when recognizing Miami’s relatively short bench, but the Heat also didn’t get the best of Tyler Herro. To be fair, the rookie lottery pick did finish with 21 points (on 20 shooting possessions), including 12 in the fourth quarter, but Herro’s decision-making and shot selection were also poor at times. Eventually, he flashed what Miami needed from a shot creation perspective down the stretch, but the Heat didn’t have the same type of engine that Dragic provides, and the Heat struggled to less than 1.05 points per possession as a result.
3. Anthony Davis had an unbelievable night
LeBron James might be the favorite for NBA Finals MVP, especially after a second half that saw him score 20 points, grab nine rebounds and dish out four assists in Game 4. With that said, Davis was arguably the best player for the Lakers, especially when taking defense into account.
Davis finished the night with nine defensive rebounds, four blocked shots and steal, anchoring the same defense that held Miami well-below its normal baseline in efficiency. For much of the night, Davis wasn’t insanely productive on the offensive end, at least by his standards, but he was absolutely everywhere on the defensive end, containing Bam Adebayo, cutting off penetration, protecting the rim, and even guarding Butler for large chunks of time.
In the end, Davis finished with a game-best +17 in a game the Lakers won by six and, while plus-minus in a single game doesn’t necessarily reflect everything that transpired, it certainly felt right in this instance.
Oh, and Davis knocked down the dagger to give the Lakers their third win of the series and place Miami firmly on the ropes at the same time.
The Lakers will aim to finish off the Heat on Friday evening in Game 5, while Miami will look to respond, especially on the offensive end, after what was a challenging loss.