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Rooting against a sweep, and other thoughts from the start of the NBA Finals

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No one likes a Finals sweep — except the sweeper.

2020 NBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Other than the fans of the team doing the sweeping, no one enjoys the sweep of any series, especially if it happens in the NBA Finals. After two of the Heat’s leading scorers suffered injuries in the Lakers’ Game 1 blow-out, this series had SWEEP written all over it.

Very little that happened in Game 2 dispelled that feeling. While the gritty Heat squad hung in there as well as one could expect, the Heat never cut the lead below 9 in the second half. And every time the lead got to 9, the Lakers would immediately stretch it out again. At no point did it look like the Heat could actually win the game, let alone make it close.

In non-Bubble playoffs, the Heat could chalk up the first two games as “road losses”. The Heat could take solace in knowing they would be headed back to Miami for Games 3 and 4. While everyone has focused on the better teams’ loss of home-court advantage in the Bubble, the Heat’s inability to count on a home crowd and a home floor to offer some relief might be more important at this point.

The Heat know that they are going back to the same court against the same team that has already beaten them by double figures there. And while the Heat may get Bam Adebayo back for Game 3 (he’s currently listed as doubtful, along with Goran Dragic), they had him for much of Game 1. That did not go well either. In his 21 minutes, he was minus 12, with 8 points (2-8 from the floor) and only 4 rebounds. When he left the game with six minutes left in the third quarter, the Lakers led 87-55. If you do the math, that is a 32 point spread, with barely half of the game played.

So while Bam’s possible return for Game 3 might give Heat fans some hope, it might be too little, too late. Of course, neutral observers will be rooting against a sweep, which would be anti-climactic ending to what thus far has been a remarkably exciting and remarkably successful Bubble Playoffs.

Other thoughts

1. Game 2 presented yet another opportunity for Fun with Box Scores. The Heat outshot the Lakers overall (50.7% - 50.5%), from the three point line (40.7% - 34%) and from the free-throw line (91% - 57%). The Heat also took twice as many free throws (34-17), while each team had only 9 turnovers. Take all those advantages, and you would assume the Heat won the game, perhaps easily.

The missing stat? Offensive rebounds. The Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds (getting 1 in 3 of their misses back) to 6 offensive boards for the Heat (getting 1 in 6 of their misses). Those ten extra opportunities to score made the difference. Indeed, because teams average roughly one point per possession, those ten extra opportunities to score largely explain the ten-point margin of victory. They are also discouraging for a Heat defensive team which did much right for 24 seconds to force a miss, only to see a Laker (normally Anthony Davis with his 8 offensive boards) sail in (or over) to convert a miss into a basket.

2. Mark Jackson spent much of the game harping on the Heat’s lack of defensive effort. He really should have focused on who the Heat had on the floor, particularly the back line of the Heat zone defense. Putting their stronger defenders at the top of the zone (primarily Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguadola and Jae Crowder) left Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Should Have Been a Spur Duncan Robinson on the backline. Jackson should have stopped criticizing the effort of that backline, and instead recognized that none of those slender players are even average defenders or rim protectors, especially against the likes of AD and LeBron James. Or even Dwight Howard.

Because I was curious, I checked — Herro and Nunn both weigh less than 200 pounds, and Nunn is listed at only 6’2’’. Robinson is listed at 6’7’’, but weighs only 215. Olynyk is a good offensive player, but doesn’t play more because of his defensive “issues”. Miami plays so much zone because of those players’ defensive deficiencies, not because they don’t “try hard enough”.

3. Subtle insult of the day came in this Jeff Van Gundy comment: ”You have to think that Danny Green is hurt if J.R. Smith is in the game.”

With DG’s odd running style, it is difficult to tell when he is injured. His 1 for 8 from three screams out injury, but most of the misses came before he hurt his hip in the third quarter. All that being said, the L.A. Times had a very nice piece about him on the front page on the sports page the morning of Game 2. The article must have jinxed his jump shot.

4. Miami Heat start of a joke of the day: A Nunn, a Herro and a Butler walk into a bar.

5. The Lakers spent all season wondering who would be their third best player. For Game 2, it was Playoff Rondo. In 26 minutes, Rajon Rondo had 16 points (3 of 4 from three) and 10 assists against only 1 turnover.

6. Is it too early to start talking about who will win Finals MVP?

AD Game 1: 34/9/5, 10 for 10 on free throws. Game 2: 32/14/1 on 75% shooting with those 8 offensive boards.

LeBron Game 1: 25/13/9, with only 2 turnovers. Game 2: 33/9/9 on 56% shooting, only 2 turnovers.

LeBron would have had 15 assists in Game 2 if DannyGreen! or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (combined 5 for 22) had been able to make some shots. If they make those shots in Game 3, I am fairly certain we will be looking at a sweep on Tuesday night, and the end of an NBA season and playoffs like no other.