The Los Angeles Lakers may have made a terrible mistake Friday night by not closing out the Miami Heat in five games. Jimmy Butler and the Heat ended up winning an absolutely amazing NBA Finals game to the score of 111-108. The Heat ended up pulling away at the end on the back of Butler, as they did in game three of these 2020 NBA Finals. Butler made some clutch baskets in the final few minutes, but extended the Heat’s lead to 109-108 by the way of two pairs of free throws in the final minute, the second pair coming with 16.8 seconds left. Markieff Morris would then invoke the memory of J.R. Smith in game one of the 2018 NBA Finals, when he too made an absolute blunder of a play to ruin a potentially great moment for his team to win a game. It’s a bit foolish to think of that offensive play too much, as it started with an absolutely wide-open Danny Green three that you’d take all day. What really hurt the Lakers is defensive miscues all night that are unusual for this team. However, instead of focusing on that, LeBron James and Frank Vogel brought up officiating after the game (reported by Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll):
LeBron added that he felt there were "a couple of questionable calls that swayed their way" at the end of that game that sent Jimmy Butler to the line.
— Finals Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 10, 2020
This really sort of irks me, so we are going to dive into the couple of plays that he is talking about while also talking about their comments as a whole. First, the two plays themselves.
The two fouls that LeBron and Vogel are speaking of are shown below. The first came with 46.7 seconds left as Butler got to the basket past Anthony Davis and Morris to get a decent look at a layup. Morris and Davis contested the basket extremely hard, with Butler being thrown to the baseline and the official calling a foul on Morris as a result. I slowed down the video to try and get a good look at whether or not Morris fouled him, but this is a true 50/50 play. Butler did what he usually does in clutch situations with a defender trying to block his shot, and that is putting the decision into the officials’ hands. Butler is one of the better free-throw shooters in the entire NBA, and has currently hit 46 out of his 50 free-throw attempts in this series. Either way, all I think when I watch this is what LeBron would have done to the officials if he was in Butler’s position and didn’t receive a call. Exactly…
This is the second foul call. Vogel and LeBron pointing this one out genuinely upsets me, as they’re missing the entire point of this play if they actually think the “bad call” was the only reason for Butler getting two free-throws here.
Vogel stated that this was “textbook verticality” on Davis’ part, which is already dubious at best. It appears in the replay that Davis’ arms are not straight up whatsoever, and he definitely seems to jump into Butler’s body during his leap instead of jumping straight up. Either way, Butler probably missed an opportunity at an easy dunk with Bam Adebayo wide open underneath the basket. The reason that there were two pretty good options at Butler’s disposal was because of a huge defensive mistake by Morris. He completely approaches the pick-and-roll coverage as his man, Jae Crowder, sets the pick on LeBron James. He shades on LeBron’s left side, while Crowder sets the pick on LeBron’s right. Butler notices that Morris has allowed him the entire paint to drive through, and immediately takes advantage to put the pressure on Davis. Morris gets on the right side of that pick, and who knows how that play ends up as Butler would have probably been contained at the three-point line where he struggles.
For what it’s worth, the NBA officially confirmed those two foul calls in their two-minute report, evidenced by Dave McMenamin of ESPN below.
Last Two Minute Report is out for Game 5. The two calls that Frank Vogel said were “bad” were upheld by the league, however, the NBA determined the refs missed two other calls that should have gone the Lakers’ way pic.twitter.com/rdbHbk2N45
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 10, 2020
Now, let’s talk about the big picture as it pertains to these comments by Vogel and LeBron. That’s a little disappointing if that’s how the two really feel. It definitely makes it seem like they’re blaming the two calls as the reason that the Lakers did not win the game. That 50/50 call aside, the foul on Davis going vertical only happened because of a defensive scheme issue that has to have been covered in a Lakers film session so far due to Butler’s many pick-and-rolls, especially late in these Finals games. Not only that, but the Lakers had defensive miscues all game that the Heat took advantage of. Duncan Robinson specifically was making the Lakers pay, ending with 26 points on an astounding 7-of-13 from three. Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room detailed some of these mistakes below.
Miami does an extraordinary job of capitalizing on defensive mistakes, and the Lakers made quite a few of them in Game 5. Here's a thread of plays where they capitalized on our inattention.
On this play, Danny Green turns his head and Duncan Robinson loses him on the relocation. pic.twitter.com/uZ9ndzjPlw
— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) October 10, 2020
I know I speculated above, but when I really think about the comments from Vogel and LeBron I start to think this is the type of passive-negotiating they did with the officials in the Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets. The Lakers were upset about the disparity between the entire Nuggets team’s free throws compared to the free throws that LeBron was getting, and Vogel “let” that frustration get into the media. Vogel and LeBron could just be trying to get this on the officials’ radar for game six so that they may think twice about calling the same type of fouls down the stretch of games. It’s a tactic that was used many times by Phil Jackson during his time as a head coach, as Frank Vogel will be getting the same type of fine today or tomorrow that Jackson received many times in his career while criticizing the officials.