Lakers defense needed more than ever in NBA Finals

Oct 2, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn (25) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) during the second quarter in game two of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers last-second shooting and decisions may be the Game 5 story in their loss, but their porous defense was the real issue. Defense is two parts comprised of assignments and rebounding to finish possessions. All season long, the Lakers preached togetherness and communication only to watch two losses slip from their grasp during closing time. Anthony Davis has allowed easy switches. Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been caught ball-watching. Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris are not constantly communicating when paired together in the Heat’s actions.

It’s A Numbers Game

Consider this easy bit of math: the Lakers have allowed an average of 113 points per game in their two Finals losses compared to 102.6 points in three wins. It’s that simple. Now what isn’t as easy to decipher is how the former is happening. I speak to this in reference to assignments. Everything that the Heat are doing to hurt the Lakers is coming by way of Jimmy Butler in pick and roll plus the threat of shooting in Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

The Lakers allowed a 26-point performance from Robinson on Friday night. In the Heat’s two wins, he’s notched 19.5 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting from three. In three losses, the Lakers held him to 8.6 points on 31.2 percent beyond the arc. Playing great teams mean you will give up something. The performances that Duncan has had in Miami’s wins are what you don’t want to give up.

Jimmy Butler is a bad man. As proven, he’s been able to match LeBron at every facet and will his teams to wins. After an epic 40-point performance, he’s up to 37.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 12 assists in the Heat’s victories in the NBA Finals. Butler qualifies on the side of “giving up something”, but there is still some resistance that has to exist with him.

What Does The Tape Say?

What are the Lakers doing wrong? The first thing is technique. Kuz could benefit here from extending his ball denial by getting his left foot out to navigate the screen set by Nunn. Instead, he denies flat and gives Nunn enough of a target to get Robinson some space.

Communication is going to be huge going forward. Understandably, we may not get to see AD at 100 percent due to his heel contusion, but the frontcourt is their last line of defense against Jimmy Buckets’ drives. More importantly, the guys around the perimeter have to dictate the terms and keep their heads on a swivel. Here is an example of one of those instances highlighted by Lakers Film Room podcast host Pete Zayas:

Effort and positioning will bite you in the ass. Boxing out is a basketball principle taught from day one. On the play below, Dwight Howard fails to go body to body with Butler and he gives up four points and possession after a flagrant foul:

Another big issue is attachment. Watch here as Robinson cuts across two Lakers who screen each other before burying a three:

Play after play, there were critical breakdowns that widened the gap for the Lakers. Basketball is a sexy sport. We love to see three-point barrages and transition plays, but a lot of this comes by way of getting stops. It’s going to be harder than usual with a hobbling AD and confident Heat team. If there is anyone to trust to refocus their team, it’s the leadership of coach Frank Vogel and LeBron James. Championships are hard to capture. Our views might have been skewed by the overwhelming talent of the Golden State Warriors’ epic run, but the league’s changed. Welcome to the fight, LA.

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