Thursday’s NBA Finals rematch between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers featured two of the NBA’s top defensive squads: The Lakers first in defensive rating (106.6 RTG) with Miami in seventh (110.5 RTG), per Cleaning the Glass.
It looked the part, too. The two squads combined for 42 turnovers (Lakers - 22, Heat - 20) — translating into a combined 58 points-off-turnovers.
The disjointed nationally televised contest ended in a 110-104 Heat victory at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. It marked Miami’s first series sweep over the Lakers since the 2014-15 season. The Heat downed the Lakers 96-94 in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 20.
Thursday’s victory improved Miami to 27-25, tying the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. The two, plus the Charlotte Hornets are nine games back of the top-seeded Brooklyn Nets in the conference. The Heat have won five out of their last six games.
The shorthanded Lakers, who were without both LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (achilles) for the 10th consecutive game, fall to 32-20 and are now 6.5 games back of the Utah Jazz for the top-seed in the Western Conference.
They are 4-6 in their 10-game stretch without their two superstar stalwarts. It goes without saying how vital both James and Davis are for the Lakers’ success and, ultimately, their playoff ceiling. For perspective, both played in over 85 percent of Los Angeles’ games last year — the team did not eclipse the 20-loss threshold, finishing 52-19 in their abbreviated 2019-20 regular season. They’ve already reached that mark just 52 games this year.
Los Angeles is also just one game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 7 seed.
The Heat shot 47.9 percent, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range and 80.0 percent from the free-throw line. They were led by Jimmy Butler, who had 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists, shooting 8-of-11 from the floor and 11-of-12 from the free-throw line in the winning effort.
Playing in just his fourth game since getting dealt in a last-second deadline deal from the Houston Rockets, Victor Oladipo had his best performance with the Heat. He tallied 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, adding three steals and a block.
He also featured a couple of dazzling highlight-reel plays.
Oladipo exited the game (right leg) after a separate two-handed slam with 5:35 left in the contest. He did not return, playing in 25 minutes.
Bam Adebayo added 13 points with seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks, knocking down six of his 12 shot attempts. Tyler Herro had 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Duncan Robinson had 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep, snapping his seven-game streak of four-plus 3-pointers. Goran Dragic added 10 points, but shot just 3-for-9 on the evening.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tallied season-high 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the floor, netting 6-of-11 from 3-point range.
Montrezl Harrell had 10 points, grabbing nine boards and went 3-for-4 in 21 minutes off the bench. Wesley Matthews had 14 points on 3-of-8 shooting from deep with two steals and a block. Markieff Morris, who got ejected with back-to-back technical fouls with just over two minutes left in the ballgame, finished with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
Dennis Schroder added 12 points on a lowly 2-of-12 shooting, but dished out a season-high 14 assists and hauled-in six rebounds. His 14 assists were one shy of tying his career high of 15, which has been reached two times in his career — most recently coming on Jan. 17, 2018, versus the New Orleans Pelicans. Schroder has recorded double-digit assists just one other time this year.
Newly-acquired Andre Drummond, who missed the last three games due to a toe injury, made his return Thursday — appearing in his second career game with Los Angeles. The 7-footer finished with 15 points, a team-high 12 rebounds and two steals. He shot 5-of-9 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.
In his first contest dawning the purple and gold, Ben McLemore, who was picked up off free agency Tuesday after getting waived by the Rockets on Saturday, tallied six points on 1-of-4 shooting and grabbed two rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
On the evening, the Lakers shot 44.3 percent and 34.3 percent from the 3-point line — also knocking down 22 of their 25 free throw attempts (88 percent).
The Heat finished a plus-two (40-38) in the rebounding battle and a plus-four (26-22) in assist battle.
Adebayo’s second-chance slam put Miami ahead 12-7 with 8:57 left in the first quarter. Butler’s left-handed and-1 conversion made it 18-10.
Taking advantage of Davis’ absence, the Heat immediately tried to expose arguably the Lakers’ most glaring weakness: rim protection. They recorded 16 of their first 21 points from either the free-throw line or inside the paint. They got into their first-quarter bonus in the first four minutes, 31 seconds. Miami knocked down 16 first-quarter three throws, four more than in any other first quarter this season.
After the Lakers trimmed the deficit to two, Dragic’s nifty fastbreak finish extended it to 31-24.
Caldwell-Pope (10 points), Drummond (6) and Matthews (6) accounted for all but five of the Lakers’ 27 first quarter points.
Butler’s corner 3-pointer — his 16th triple of the year — widened the Heat lead to 37-28. Morris’ layup cut it to 47-42 with 5:44 left in the first half, prompting a Heat timeout.
After holding an 11-point second-quarter advantage, lackluster offense — opposite of its start to begin the game — coupled with Los Angeles’ gritty defense sent the second quarter into a tailspin. The undermanned Lakers fought back from an 11-point deficit to earn its first lead came with 3:32 left in the half and entered halftime with a 56-54 lead.
Miami shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from deep, while the Lakers shot 48.5 percent and 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
The Heat took the lead right back with Oladipo’s steal-and-score in the first three minutes of the second half.
An 8-0 Heat run — capped-off by Robinson’s four-point play conversion — extended Miami’s lead to 80-72 with 2:46 left in the third quarter. The Lakers retaliated with an 8-0 run of their own, tying it at 80.
The Heat went on a 12-4 run, capped-off by Dragic’s layup to award them the 92-84 advantage with 7:42 left. Morris’ 3-pointer cut it to three, but back-to-back mid-range jumpers from Herro and Butler made it 99-92 with 4:08 remaining. Butler’s two free throws with under 20 seconds left iced Miami’s fifth victory in its last six games.
The Heat hit the road for a four-game west coast road trip, beginning Sunday, April 11 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Tip-off will be at 10:00 p.m. EST.