While the television ratings are not yet in, the ABC broadcast yesterday most likely the most watched NBA regular season game of 2010. The Miami Heat dominated the Los Angeles Lakers in their first meeting of the 2010-2011 NBA season. The stars were out in Los Angeles. Larry David, Snoop Dogg, Michael Clark Duncan, Sly Stalone, Dustin Hoffman, and countless others sat by and watched their beloved Lakers succumb to the Heat’s impressive team defense. The game was never really close after half way through the first quarter, when the Heat went on a 14-3 run to take control of the game. Brilliant performances by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Heat’s plethora of perimeter shooters were elevated even further in comparison by poor performances by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom.
The box score adequately tells the story. The Heat kept the Lakers to 40% shooting from the field, 31% from three-point range, and allowed only 15 free throw attempts. The Lakers, despite having a formidable size advantage, were not able to out-rebound the Heat. The Heat forced 12 turnovers, while committing only nine. They had nine blocks and four steals, compared to the Lakers four blocks and one steal. What the box score cannot convey was the brutal efficiency of Miami’s team defense which stifled the Lakers on all but a precious few possessions at the beginning of the first and third quarters. The Heat recovered off help beautifully all game long. The lane stayed clogged, but shooters were closed out as well. It seemed like there were no good options for the Lakers. No matter where they sent the ball, a defender showed up. If the Heat had not gone cold at the end of the fourth quarter, it could have been another 20 point blowout victory for Miami.
In addition to stifling defense, the Heat shone offensively. Their “Big Three” shot 52% (25-48) from the field, including five three pointers from James on only six attempts. Mario Chalmers and James Jones contributed four more three pointers, all on very open shot attempts. LeBron James, in particular, played Grinch in L.A. His triple-double (27-11-10) performance was bolstered by 4 steals, and 57% (8-14) shooting. It will go down as one of the great individual performances on Christmas day. Chris Bosh played impressively as well. Particularly when you consider that the Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be the nightmare situation for him. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom were touted to be a wall the Heat could not climb. Bosh scaled it on his own. Shooting 65% (11-17) from the field, Bosh used his range and speed to befuddle the Lakers big men. He also stood strong in the middle and grabbed a team high 13 rebounds – another supposed weak point.
There were some contributing factors that heightened the disparity between these two teams. Under different circumstances, it would most likely have been a closer game. Andrew Bynum played only 18 minutes, working his way back into game shape after yet another significant injury. While he was efficient, the Lakers do not want to rush his return. If he were able to play twice as long as he did, the Lakers would likely have been able to establish their offense more than they were. In addition, the Lakers (with the exception of Bryant, who looked as surly as ever) did not have their heads and hearts in the game. Blame Phil Jackson, who spent more time complaining about having to play on Christmas than talking about how his team needed to show up and snap out of their lethargic play. He leads the Lakers with his force of personality. His attitude clearly permeated the team, which never once seemed angry, or excited about the game. This was no more evident than during Phil’s sideline interview, which was smug and insulting. In addition, the refs were allowing lots of contact all game long, which favored Miami’s aggressive, physical defense.
Ultimately, the game was a microcosm of the trend of each team. The Heat are improving. They rely on their defense to spark their offense, and both aspects of play are showing consistent improvement for the Heat. The Lakers, on the other hand, seem lethargic, unexcited, and uninspired. Their offense is stagnating, their spacing is off, and their emotional involvement is in decline. The Heat will need to find a way to continue to improve towards the All Star game and beyond, while the Lakers need to find a way to right their ship.
* For more on this game, check out Chris Ross’s blog here!