LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard blocked a pull-up jumper from Miami Heat rookie Tyler Herro and then made an outlet pass to LeBron James to start a fastbreak with under eight minutes remaining in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night.
James dribbled up the floor and found a trailing Howard, who drove to the basket and drew in two Heat defenders before executing a nice wrap-around lefty pass to Anthony Davis for the two-hand flush to go up 26 in an eventual 116-98 Lakers victory.
The Heat swiftly signaled for a timeout. Davis urged the family and friends in attendance to make some noise and he uttered, “It’s over.”
Howard jogged to the timeout huddle, making circular shapes around his eyes with his hands as if he were wearing glasses to playfully suggest that he was seeing the court well with his passing. Players on the bench followed along, imitating the gesture.
James saw the antics, but he bit his tongue. That wouldn’t be the case a few minutes later.
James pulled down a rebound and was off to the races. In transition he found a cutting Howard, who delivered another nice left-handed pass to Davis along the baseline for a two-handed dunk to give the Lakers their biggest lead of the night at 87-55.
The Heat promptly called a timeout once more.
Davis, Howard and some players on the Lakers’ bench began making the glasses gesture again as they walked to their bench. James didn’t let this celebratory occurrence slide this time.
“Hey, hey! Stop it! Stay locked in!” he shouted at his teammates before entering the huddle. “This s--- ain't over, man.”
The Lakers easily finished their mission in Game 1. Before the final buzzer sounded, James walked over to each of his teammates and congratulated them on striking first, but also reminding them that they need three more wins.
James was one assist short of a triple-double, finishing with 25 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Davis produced a game-high 34 points to pair with nine boards, five assists and three blocks in his first NBA Finals game, this one in unique circumstances.
“You kind of see that it's a Finals game, but once you go out there and start playing, I don't think the fans are allowed to make any noise, so it feels like a regular game in the bubble, even though that pressure of the Finals is still there,” Davis said. “So I think it makes it a lot easier, especially for our guys to just go out there and play.”
Despite the fact the Lakers dominated for much of the game, James clearly wasn’t pleased with some of their horseplay. In his postgame news conference, Yahoo Sports asked James what caused him to address his teammates about the fourth-quarter antics spurred by the significant lead.
“The best teacher in life is experience,” James responded. “I've experienced moments in my career where you have all the momentum in the world and you felt like you had the game under control, and one play here or one play there could change the course of a series or change the course of a game. One in particular that always rings home for me is Game 2 of the 2011 Finals in Miami vs. Dallas. [Dwyane Wade] hits a three right by their bench. I believe it put us up either 13 or 17. From that moment on, Dallas went on a hell of a run and finished it off with a Dirk Nowitzki left-hand layup to steal that game. That s--- burns me to this day. I always talk about the best teacher in life is experience, and I've experienced a lot. That's what prompts me to be who I am today, is being able to have those experiences.”
As James stressed throughout the game to keep their foot on the gas pedal, he became flustered with some of the Lakers’ late-game execution on the defensive end.
The Heat were inbounding the ball on the left sideline of their basket with 3:45 left in the contest. The Lakers were up pretty comfortably by 19. Herro was the inbounder with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope assigned to him.
Herro threw the inbound pass to Kelly Olynyk near the free-throw line. The Heat’s Kendrick Nunn, who was guarded by Rajon Rondo, set a back pick on Caldwell-Pope. And for a brief second it caused some confusion because Caldwell-Pope and Rondo both sprinted toward Nunn, leaving Herro unchecked and Olynyk hit the guard with a nice backdoor pass.
All that prevented Herro from an easy layup was James playing free safety, and so the guard dribbled to the opposite side and finessed his way around the four-time MVP for a high-arcing layup off the glass.
A livid James immediately turned to Rondo and yelled, “What the f--- are y’all doing over there? That’s a switch!” signaling that Rondo and Caldwell-Pope should have switched defensively on the back pick.
It was a blown coverage that could have proved costly if the game were close. The Heat are wounded with the status of Goran Dragic (left plantar tear in his foot) and Bam Adebayo (shoulder) unclear for Game 2, but they're a resilient group that won’t fold easily.
The Lakers put in the work in Game 1, but a laser-focused James made certain to remind his guys that they can play after the job is done. You don’t play prematurely against an Erik Spoelstra-led Heat squad.
“We know that this is just one win,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We are happy that we got one win, but obviously we have to keep our foot on the gas.”
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