They say it’s the contrasting styles that make the fight, and tonight we were blessed with a hell of a battle as the Heat outlasted the Lakers in a 94-88 victory in South Beach. The Heat, with their strong perimeter play were able to beat the Lakers in their own game — with their strong inside play and defense — were able to simultaneously end two of the most talked about streaks in recent NBA news.
After the Lakers last loss (to the Cavs, the obvious low point of their season, Darius wrote:
The Lakers got outworked by a team hell bent on revenge. The Cavs played hard, they played smart, and they took advantage of every opening the Lakers gave them.
Tonight, this game gave off a similar feel. The Lakers turned the ball over, the Heat turned them into layups. The Lakers gave up offensive rebounds, the Heat turned them into second chance points. The Lakers sagged off of shooters, the Heat turned them into 3-point opportunities. The Lakers missed easy buckets around the rim, the Heat turned them into defensive stops. Tonight, unlike their last loss to the Cavs, wasn’t about a lack of effort on either side of the ball, it was about the Heat taking advantage of the Lakers small lapses in their game plan and mental toughness. From Mario Chalmers hitting wide open threes to Mike Miller grabbing offensive rebounds to guards getting ripped on the perimeter, the Lakers continued to give the Heat small windows of opportunity to make plays. And with a game that remained as close as this one did, those miniscule windows of opportunity become increasingly more crucial as every second ticks off the clock.
Kobe was able to get going early, matching all eight of the Heat’s first eight points — all of which came off of Lakers turnovers. He got to the free throw line, hit his first three jumpers, including a contested three-pointer, looking as if he was going to have a nice rhythm for the game. While Kobe began to heat up, Miami was getting what they hadn’t got from their role players during their five-game losing streak — production. Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller hit four three-pointers in the first quarter, and along with Mike Bibby, shot 7-for-12 for the game.
In fact, the Heat bench was one of their major issues coming into tonight’s game, scoring a combined 14 points in the Heat’s last two losses. Tonight, that bench combined for 18 points, completely out-playing the Odom-Barnes-Blake-Brown foursome. Mike Miller contributed 12 points, on 4-for-6 shooting with three offensive rebounds (seven overall). Mike Bibby came off the bench and hit a couple of big threes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a couple of offensive rebounds that hurt the Lakers. The Lakers bench struggled for the majority of the night, shooting four-for-17 with nine rebounds and only one forced turnover. Lamar Odom wasn’t horrible, with all four of the Lakers’ field goals, but missed a few easy shots around the rim and gave up some rebounds that led to Heat second chance points from not boxing out.
The second half was about what the starting unit did or didn’t do. Going into the half, the Lakers had given up 55 points, putting the Heat at a much higher pace than any of the Lakers opponents during their eight-game winning streak. Defensively, the Lakers didn’t look themselves, but in the third quarter, the defense turned things up a bit, starting with Andrew Bynum. He made himself big in the paint, altering shots and cleaning up the glass. ‘Drew finished the third quarter with four points and seven rebounds after just one rebound in the whole first half. With ‘Drew in the middle altering shots and forcing the Heat slashers to take jumpers instead of attacking the rim, the Heat finished the quarter with only 13 points and the Lakers, at least on that end of the floor, like the team that hadn’t given up more than 87 points in five straight games.
The fourth quarter, things changed. Mike Bibby hit his two three pointers — one to tie the game, and the second time to give the Heat a three-point lead. With about 5:30 left to play, the Heat called a timeout, and came out of the timeout and executed down the stretch like they hadn’t in recent games. Dwyane Wade started attacking the rim, getting two straight layups. One possession later, Chris Bosh got to the rim for the Heat’s third straight layup. All of a sudden, the Lakers couldn’t get stops. On the Heat’s only missed shot after Chris Bosh’s layup, Wade grabbed the offensive rebound and got a short jumper out of it. The Lakers, on the other hand, couldn’t execute down the stretch. Kobe had a crucial turnover with about 1:30 left to play, the Lakers got three offensive rebounds after missed shots, and couldn’t convert on any of them. To put it in terms easy to understand, the Heat held the Lakers to three points in the last 3:20 of the game. All of Miami’s problems that kept them from winning a few of the games during their five game winning streak finally came together for them. They got stops, they got easy shots around the rim, and they got the win.
Tonight’s game definitely had a playoff atmosphere to it. Of course, this is one that we would have liked for the Lakers to bring home — and for the majority of the game, it felt as if the Lakers were going to take over at any point. It just never happened. The Lakers, for the most part, played hard. They just came across a very good team that was desperate for a win. Again, tonight’s game came down to the Lakers giving small opportunities to put points on the board throughout the game, and those opportunities built up into a six-point lead after 48-minutes of basketball. This isn’t a game that the Lakers can dwell on for too long, as they have the Dallas Mavericks (who are up on the Knicks by 12 as I type) in Dallas on Saturday and a game against Orlando on Monday. It’s going to be key for them to have a short memory and continue to improve as this is a team playing for playoff positioning, not to prove something in each individual game. For a team with championship aspirations, games like this are only a minor dent in a season that really won’t be summed up until their last game is played.