LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After the undermanned Miami Heat notched their first win of the NBA Finals 115-104 on Sunday to draw the series to 2-1, the leaders of the Los Angeles Lakers insisted their resolve remains strong.
“I don’t ever feel like we let our guard down,” LeBron James said after his 25-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist performance was marred by eight turnovers. “Also, I don’t feel like we’re concerned. We’re not concerned. We know we can play a lot better. We have another opportunity to take a commanding lead on Tuesday. You relish that opportunity.”
Forward Anthony Davis, whose 15-point output Sunday was less than half his series average of 33.0 points per game coming into the night, echoed James’ confidence.
“Trust me,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”
The Lakers were far from fine in Game 3. They fell down by as many as 13 points in the first quarter, with their 10 turnovers in the opening frame opening the door for Miami — which lost both Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo to injury in Game 1 — to avoid an 0-3 hole and near-certain championship disappointment.
James was the main culprit as L.A. ended up with 20 turnovers leading to 21 Miami points, but Davis committed five himself, as he struggled to find a rhythm offensively after the Heat switched their primary defensive coverage from zone to man. Davis, who went 6-for-9 from the floor, attempted only three of those shots in the paint in Game 3 — the fewest shots in the paint in the 6-foot-10 Davis’ playoff career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“They are really, really good offensively, so you just can’t turn the ball over against that team,” James said after L.A. was outscored in every quarter for the first time this postseason. “I take full responsibility for that.”
Davis’ first-quarter stat line of zero points, two fouls and four turnovers was nothing like the Lakers have come to expect out of him, with several of his teammates routinely referring to him as the “best player in the world.” He readily shouldered the blame, along with James.
“I just have to be better,” Davis said. “Both ends of the floor. Foul trouble, bringing the energy to the team — the team relies on me bringing the energy to start the game, and when you pick up two fouls, guys come in earlier, things like that. So I just have to be better.”
The loss wasted strong bench performances by Markieff Morris and Kyle Kuzma, who both set their 2020 postseason scoring high with 19 points apiece. L.A.’s bench outscored its starters 53-51, as the Lakers’ reserves accounted for the second-most bench points in a Finals game since the statistic started being tracked in 1970-71, per the Elias Sports Bureau data.
They were also both frank about where L.A. goes from here as it prepares for Game 4 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
“I like how we respond after losing a game,” Morris said. “We have great leaders. We’ll watch film tomorrow. There’s a lot of people that are going to get their ass chewed out, and we’ll respond better in Game 4.”
Kuzma, who has become an internet whipping boy for his uneven play — more than 8,000 people signed a petition on Change.org demanding that the third-year forward should not receive a ring if L.A. wins the title — oozed nonchalance.
“I really honestly don’t care,” he said. “I mean, you either love or hate someone. It doesn’t matter. I mean, y’all see I dyed my hair blond this year. I don’t give a f—. I don’t care. I mean, Twitter is for jokes. I laugh at jokes, too. It really doesn’t affect me at all.”
And he said he doubts the loss will affect the Lakers’ psyche as a whole.
“We’re not perfect. No one’s perfect. You are not a perfect team, you are not a perfect individual. Everybody f—s up. Everybody makes mistakes. The biggest thing for us is keying in on what we need to do and then doing what we have done all year,” he said. “Our message to the team is we don’t like to lose two in a row. That’s been our goal — not for playoffs, but entire season long. Obviously, having a little letdown is great for us. We have been on a high, and for us, we got to respond. And I like our chances because of who we have on the team.”
Despite the slow start and all the turnovers, L.A. had a 91-89 lead with 8:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. Miami closed things out with a 26-13 run from there.
“Obviously, we have to do a better job of that coming down the stretch,” James said. “But I like our fight tonight, even as poorly as I believe we played.”
The win should certainly give the Heat some belief. And Miami could drum up even more momentum with the return of Adebayo (neck injury) or Dragic (torn plantar fascia in his left foot) on Tuesday.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel claims it didn’t take the first loss — or a potential impending return of a key player — for the Heat to have L.A.’s full attention.
“We’ve had great respect for this team from the start,” Vogel said. “That didn’t change after Game 1, and that didn’t change after Game 2. Even with guys out, we still have great respect, and we saw that in Game 2 what they are capable of from an offensive-firepower standpoint and defensive-competitiveness standpoint.
“So they are going to be a great opponent with those guys or without them.”