It wasn’t pretty, but the Los Angeles Lakers have taken a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
The Lakers committed seven first-quarter turnovers, and LeBron James looked mortal in the opening half, but Anthony Davis anchored a defensive effort that kept the Miami Heat at bay throughout the second half, long enough for some timely fourth-quarter offense to secure a 102-96 victory on Tuesday.
“Between me and AD, we hold each other to a standard that no one else can hold us to,” James, looking every bit his 36 years, told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on the postgame broadcast. “He challenges me every night; I challenge him every night. It doesn’t matter if the ball is going in, we have to do things that help our team win on the defensive end and offensive end, and he did that tonight. He was spectacular.”
James finally came alive midway through the third quarter, scoring or assisting on 12 straight Lakers points, including a pair of three-pointers, that swung a two-point deficit into a six-point lead. They never trailed again. Miami battled back to tie the game at 83-83 with 6:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, but James responded with another seven straight points for the Lakers. The Heat got no closer than 90-88.
James finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, drawing within one win of his fourth NBA championship with a third different franchise. A potential close-out Game 5 is scheduled for Friday night.
“We understand what’s at stake,” added James. “The job is not done.”
Lakers forward LeBron James is 15-0 in a playoff series when leading 3-1 (3-0 this season) and 12-3 in Game 5s in those series (also 3-0 this season). @ESPNStatsInfo
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) October 7, 2020
Davis added 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists, but did his best work opposite Heat star Jimmy Butler, whose 40-point triple-double killed the Lakers in Game 3 and drew the series to 2-1. Butler came within an assist of his second career playoff triple-double, but his 22 points on 17 shots were far from the efficiency he generated on Sunday. No longer in foul trouble, Davis dominated the interior once again defensively. The Heat scored only 32 points in the paint on 30 shots after amassing 52 on 34 in Game 3.
The Lakers looked listless at the half, despite leading 49-47. James committed five turnovers in the opening two quarters. He and Davis combined for just 16 points on 15 shots entering the break, and the Heat swiped a 52-49 lead on a ridiculous Tyler Herro floater over Davis two minutes into the second half.
Miami led for a minute, until James’ first three of the night gave L.A. a 55-54 lead at the 8:18 mark of the third quarter. That opened the floodgates for the four-time MVP, and the Heat could not stem the tide.
But James and Davis might be in a tied series, fingers pointed at both of them, if not for the L.A. non-stars. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 15 points, including five straight points that pushed the Lakers lead back to 95-88 with two minutes remaining. Miami’s Jae Crowder responded with a three, but Rajon Rondo’s lone two points of the night — a driving finger roll — pushed the Lakers lead back to six. The veteran point guard found Davis at the top of the key for a dagger three-pointer on the next possession.
The Heat did get All-Star center Bam Adebayo back from the neck injury he suffered in Game 1. He defended Davis well and finished with 15 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes. He was not the player who was Miami’s best weapon in the Eastern Conference finals. He has three days to get there.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Adebayo told reporters in his postgame press conference. “It’s not like it’s never been done before. We still got hope, we are still going to grind to the end, start to finish.”
The Heat were still without star guard Goran Dragic, who tested the torn plantar fascia in his left foot prior to the game, but was not healthy enough to play. Even with two days off, his status still remains in doubt.
“He’s doing everything he possibly can to get into this competition,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “Our guys want to be out there and play for this. We have a purpose why we are here. Goran’s put his heart and soul into this, so he’s going to continue to try to do everything he possibly can.”
Finals MVP could be on the line in Game 5. Davis was unstoppable in the first two games, but submitted a stinker in Game 3, when Butler stole the show. James has been the Lakers’ steadiest force throughout the series, and his 28-10-8 on Tuesday reflected that, but it was Davis’ defense that held the fort in Game 4. Either could take hold of the award on Friday, if the Heat can keep the series from getting any uglier.
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