The Miami Heat were clicking. In the opening minutes of Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals, Jimmy Butler and his teammates were on fire. They raced to a 23-10 lead with 5:38 remaining in the opening quarter, forcing the Los Angeles Lakers into an early timeout. The buzz was palpable as it was clear Miami could hang with the big boys from LA. Then reality set in and the Lakers looked like a championship team.
That early run was the high point of a profoundly disappointing night for the Heat. Los Angeles answered that early onslaught with a 21-8 run of its own and actually led at the end of the first quarter, then 65-48 at halftime. It was barely a contest after that.
The Lakers took Miami's best punch and never seemed rattled. Instead, they walked right on through that haymaker like it was a love tap. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and their teammates stayed calm, made adjustments and began to pound the Heat into submission. At one point the lead ballooned to 87-55 with 6:04 left in the third. Yes, in the opening game of the NBA Finals we were already in garbage time by the third quarter. The Lakers did relax a bit and let Miami get back within 12 late in the fourth quarter but they were never challenged, securing a 116-98 win.
The lesson from Game 1 was that the Heat simply can't compete with a Lakers team running on all cylinders. In every aspect of the game, LA was the demonstrably better team. A Miami squad that out-toughed its opponents on its way through the Eastern Conference playoffs felt completely overmatched by the length and brawn of the bigger Lakers. LA out-rebounded the Heat 54-36 and I'm shocked it was that close.
It was a bad night for everyone on the Heat. Jimmy Butler, the center of Miami's franchise, was a dismal -14 and twisted his ankle. Orlando bubble star Tyler Herro was a mind-boggling -35 in 30 minutes. As if things couldn't get worse, the Heat seemed to lose their spirit when both Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo left with injuries. Their status for the rest of the series is unknown, but does it really matter?
Meanwhile, like any great Hollywood production, the Lakers got contributions from supporting cast members. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope helped spark their early comeback and finished with 13 points. Danny Green comported himself well on the defensive end, had 11 points and finished +21. Markieff Morris (eight points), Rajon Rondo (seven points, four assists) and Alex Caruso (10 points) helped the bench run circles around Miami's secondary unit until the game was out of reach.
That bench production, paired with phenomenal nights from Davis and James killed any hope Miami had. It wouldn't be surprising if there's a Game 2 hangover for the Heat. They took a brutal beating and got banged up in the process.
One of two concerns for the Lakers entering the series was how they would handle Adebayo and Miami's smaller lineups. The answer? They handled them just fine. In fact, LA played far better after going small late in the first quarter and through halftime.
The other major worry was how the Lakers would handle Miami's shooting prowess and the blazing-hot Tyler Herro. It was simple,.James answered by forcing Herro to guard him on the offensive end. Then he repeatedly attacked him. If the Heat want to use the sweet-shooting but light-defending Herro, the Lakers will make them pay for it on defense. And James did, repeatedly calling the player Herro was guarding over to set a pick and forcing the rookie to switch onto him. It was hard to watch at times.
No matter how scrappy the Heat are, the Lakers seemed to have an answer for everything. Miami's only hope in this series is to get incredibly hot from deep and hope the Lakers have off-nights offensively. That's really all they've got at this point. The Lakers are too deep, their chemistry is too good and they've peaked at exactly the right time.
Simply put, Miami doesn't have the horses to run with a focused LA squad. In fact, from the beginning of the bubble, the only team capable of beating the Lakers was the Lakers. Unless that happens, this will be a short series.