The Lakers now know who will be awaiting them in the NBA Finals – the Heat. They defeated the Celtics in six games, taking Sunday’s contest 125-113 behind a fantastic fourth quarter effort. Jimmy Butler was predictably excellent at both ends of the court, and Bam Adebayo was sensational. We’ll get to see Anthony Davis chase his first championship ring while LeBron James goes to work vs. his former coach and team. The Lakers boast the highest net rating of any team in the playoffs (+7.7), but their rebound percentage and True Shooting are barely ahead of the Heat. Game on. Due to national-TV scheduling conflicts, Game 1 of the Finals will be played on Wednesday. Let’s Dose.
The Celtics got some pre-game love from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who wished them well at the end of his press conference on Sunday. It’s not the first time Belichick has addressed the Celtics. He talked to them before their series vs. the Sixers, with Brad Stevens explaining, “I think that he is one of the best coaches in any sport of all time and probably renowned as the best preparer of all time.” Stevens and Belichick have a good relationship and it can’t hurt to have a future Hall-of-Fame coach with six Super Bowl titles on your side. But it didn’t matter on Sunday.
After Friday’s Game 5 loss for Miami, Jimmy Butler said, “[The Celtics] were playing harder than we were, which we all knew. We’ve just got to correct that. That’s where it starts for us. Any time anybody is playing harder than we are, we are not playing our best basketball.” Goran Dragic was even more blunt, saying, “Everybody looked terrible in the third quarter. We didn’t defend. We didn’t do our job … They pushed the ball, got open lanes, drove the ball, got layups. We were not shrinking the floor.” The Heat corrected those errors in Game 6 and their effort was unimpeachable.
Miami started Sunday’s closeout victory 1-of-7 from the field, but then followed up with 10-of-13 shooting which included five straight 3-pointers in the first quarter. That helped to open up a double-digit lead, and they held on by virtue of a huge fourth-quarter performance. They outscored Boston by 10 points in the frame, 37-27, with their offense doing the heavy lifting. In the first five games of this series, Miami shot only 30.1% from downtown. They were at just 43.7% from the field overall, but made up the difference with a mere 11.6 turnovers (compared to 15.0 for Boston). On Sunday, however, they shot a sterling 56.3% from the field, 48.1% from deep (13-of-27) and 84.6% from the line. It’s hard to lose with those numbers.
Tyler Herro had another terrific game off Miami’s bench with 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He did commit five turnovers, but that’s forgivable for a 20-year-old rookie playing on the biggest stage of his professional career. Plus, it’s impressive that he only committed one foul in 35 minutes. The scoring from Herro has been exceptional, but it’s the seven dimes that really stand out. A guy who can get his own buckets while also creating for teammates is a far more dangerous threat, and Miami may have found an offensive savant in Herro. In October, the only month during the regular season in which he averaged more than 28 minutes, Herro averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 threes and 0.8 steals. More defensive stats will be required for him to make a leap in fantasy circles, but to reiterate, he’s still 20 years old.
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Every playoff matchup involves strategies and adjustments, and the Lakers can learn a lot from what went wrong for Boston. Head coach Brad Stevens spoke directly to the small-ball conundrum vs. the Heat, and their need to keep a center on the court. “I think the threat at the rim of a big makes a big difference for our offense and for us,” Stevens said. “But there’s not like this obvious answer with big or small. I think Miami does a great job of punishing you when you go small, screening low so you can’t switch, stopping their screen short, rebounding against it. Then it’s harder to score because Bam [Adebayo] doesn’t really lose anything guarding a small. He’s capable of guarding one through five.”
Enes Kanter wasn’t the aforementioned “threat at the rim” in Game 6, playing a mere eight minutes off the bench, even though he’s a more polished offensive threat than Robert Williams (four minutes). Kanter notched eight points, four rebounds and two assists in a mere 10 minutes during Game 5, but had three points, four boards and nothing else in eight minutes on Sunday. Starting center Daniel Theis was in foul trouble all game long, finishing with just six points and seven boards in 22 minutes. As a result, they had no answer for Bam Adebayo’s dominant physicality. The Lakers will be a different story with Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee.
Foul trouble limited Kemba Walker in Game 5, when he played a mere 28 minutes, and he picked up his third foul prior to halftime tonight. The good news for Boston is that he also scored 20 points for the fourth time in this series, making 7-of-15 field goals and 3-of-4 free throws. He’s the Celtics’ highest-paid player, barely above Gordon Hayward, and he’ll be paid a guaranteed $34.4 million next year (plus $36.0 million in the 2021-22 season). As long as he’s healthy and playing aggressively, and his knees hold up, they’ll get their money’s worth. Fantasy managers may want to hedge their bets when drafting for season-long next year, though, as Boston has already been adamant about resting Walker to keep him healthy for the playoffs.
Let’s conclude with Bam Adebayo. He took the blame for Miami’s Game 5 loss, saying, “I put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault, it’s not my coaches’ fault, it’s me. … I missed too many shots I should have made. Put that one on me. I wasn’t being the defensive anchor that I should have been. I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind.” His teammates disagreed with his assessment, and maybe he was just jazzing himself up for a better performance in Game 6.
If that’s the case, it worked. He finished Game 6 with a game-high 32 points on 11-of-15 field goals and 10-of-11 free throws, adding 14 rebounds, five assists and one steal for good measure. And despite having the ball in his hands on most possessions, he committed a mere two turnovers in 39 minutes. Adebayo has proven that he’s a force to be reckoned with, and he’s already posting top-35 fantasy value this season — you’re unlikely to get him after the second round next year. Brandon Ingram won the Most Improved Player award this year, but that takes nothing away from Adebayo’s revelatory improvement as a two-way threat.