Daily News, Los Angeles
There are two ways to look at this if you’re a Laker fan.
First … well, you couldn’t have convinced yourself it was going to be a breeze, could you? Even as the Miami Heat lost two of their better players, they still had Jimmy Butler, who yelled to his teammates at a timeout Sunday night, “They’re in trouble.”
They, of course, being the Lakers, staring at the business end of a 115-102 loss in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, and particularly the show put on by Butler: 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in 44:51 of playing time.
But the Lakers have been here before, and went on to win each of their three Western Conference series in five games. Against Portland and Houston, they got the loss out of the way in Game 1. Against Denver they took a 2-0 lead before flattening out in Game 3, and then went back to taking care of business.
@KingJames hey be a man and stay on the court with your team and take the loss like a man. You ran to the locker room like a child. That’s why you’re not the GOAT. You’ll never the MJ. Not even close.— x- Joe Muscarella (@joemuskie) October 5, 2020
This time the process will include a video session Monday, and odds are it won’t be fun.
“We’re gonna watch film, and a lot of guys are gonna get their (rears) chewed out,” Markieff Morris said in a Zoom interview. “And we’re gonna respond better in Game 4.”
LeBron on if he walked off the court early because he thought the game was over or out of frustration “Both” pic.twitter.com/vH61O4rDCS— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 5, 2020
This is yet another reminder: Each game in a series takes on its own personality. Tuesday night’s Game 4 will feature a Laker team that had its pride stung, to the point that LeBron James had seen enough and stalked off the court and toward the tunnel 10 seconds before the final buzzer sounded.
Coach Frank Vogel said it was probably because James had thought the game had already ended. Asked if it was that or frustration, James said, “Both.”
Meanwhile, a Heat team that wasn’t expected to be here anyway, and was left for dead after Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic were hurt, is very much alive and may get at least Adebayo (neck and shoulder) back for Tuesday’s Game 4.
Adebayo worked out before Sunday’s game, and Miami coach Eric Spoelstra talked of how it was agonizing to have to sit Adebayo and Goran Dragic (plantar fascia tear) Sunday but he had to be responsible for their health.
“I know how much this means to (Adebayo), and I know how much he wants to be out there,” Spoelstra said. “This is one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve had to make with the trainers and with Pat (Riley) and everybody, but it’s the most responsible thing.”
The Heat, which has already knocked off Milwaukee and Boston, climbed back into this series with Butler’s brilliance and a mixture of resilience, resolve and good old fashioned aggression.
“Game 1 and 2 we felt like they punked us a little bit,” said rookie Tyler Herro, whose 17 points Sunday night kept alive his streak of scoring in double figures in each game of these playoffs, and who mean-mugged the ABC cameras after driving past Rajon Rondo for a layup and getting fouled in the game’s final minute.
“They were being a lot more physical than we were and that’s just not how we play basketball as an organization,” Herro said. “Tonight, we wanted to come out with a lot more energy and focus and make it fearless on both ends of the floor. We did a good job of that, but it’s not going to be enough to win the series.”
This is a Miami team with Riley’s fingerprints all over it, remember. He may have made his coaching bones as the orchestrator of the Showtime Lakers, but the president of the Heat absolutely appreciates toughness and his team reflects it, as James well knows from his days there.
“We know for sure that Miami is never gonna quit, (even) if we’d won tonight,” he said. “I mean, I know how resilient that bunch is and how resilient their coaching staff is and their franchise. So I don’t ever feel like we went into it and let our guard down. And also I don’t feel like we’re concerned. We’re not concerned. We know we can play a lot better. I mean, we have another opportunity to take a commanding lead on Tuesday.”
Taking care of the ball would help. James had five of the Lakers’ 10 first-quarter turnovers, and the sloppiness – as well as Anthony Davis’ slow start while dealing with foul trouble – put L.A. in a quick hole. Even with that, they were down by just five with 2:10 to play before Miami pulled away.
As we said, the flaws are correctable. The Lakers still should win this series well before the seven-game limit, especially if their best players again play like it. And they can make that evident Tuesday night, as they did in the first three series.
“Our message as a team is, we don’t like to lose two in a row,” Kyle Kuzma said. “That’s been our goal. Not (just) for the playoffs but the entire season.”
They did have three losing streaks in this elongated season. They lost four in a row in December, back to back games in January (the second of those to Portland at Staples Center, in the first game after Kobe Bryant’s death), and three seeding games in a row last month in the bubble. And those probably shouldn’t even count, so little was at stake.
Kuzma said he likes their chances to avoid a losing streak this time. So do I, even if Miami does bring reinforcements.
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