Column: Heat need more than Udonis Haslem’s spark to ignite a win over Lakers
Udonis Haslem couldn’t contain his anger. Rising to his feet — the better to see and be seen by his Miami Heat teammates during a third-quarter timeout — he used pointed fingers and pointed words to scold them about their unacceptable effort against the Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Friday. At 40, the three-time NBA champion can’t scare anyone on the court anymore, but his tone and message got his teammates’ full attention.
Jimmy Butler later gave a sanitized summary of Haslem’s speech, the essence being that playing without injured center Bam Adebayo and guard Goran Dragic would require more focus and energy than the Heat had showed to that point. “Everybody’s got to lock in. We’ve got to be three places at once. It’s so hard to do, but we’ve got guys that have to do it. That’s what it’s going to take to beat this team,” Butler recounted. “That’s what he said: Play harder. That’s what it’s going to take for us to win a championship, play hard.”
For a while, Haslem’s passion ignited the Heat, who pulled to within nine points of the Lakers late in the third quarter and again early in the fourth. But LeBron James (33 points) and Anthony Davis (32) had the final words in a 124-114 victory that put the Lakers two wins from the franchise’s 17th championship and left the Heat to ponder why they needed Haslem to light a fire under them after getting this far on a self-motivated, scrappy, never-say-die identity.
Haslem, who has become an unofficial assistant coach, woke them up. “Oh, yeah. I think that we’ve got to do it from the jump, though. It shouldn’t take him telling us to do that,” Butler said after his 25-point, 13-assist performance over nearly 45 minutes. “But I like the way that we responded to it. We’ve got guys that [if] you tell them what it is, they normally respond. So maybe he should just start the game off cussing people out.”
The fact that Udonis Haslem was their most emotional player is one of many problems the Heat must resolve before reassembling on Sunday for Game 3. It’s unclear if Adebayo (strained neck) or Dragic (torn plantar fascia) will return. It’s also unclear whether the Heat will be able to find the motivation to compete more evenly and consistently against the bigger, stronger Lakers. No team has ever erased a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven NBA playoff series. Even Haslem at his most prolific and profane would have trouble inspiring the Heat to escape that predicament.
“Like I said at the beginning of this thing, we’ve got to play damn near perfect in order to beat those guys over there,” Butler said. “We’ve yet to do it, and if we don’t do it soon, it’s not going to be pretty.”
The Lakers again did not relax against an overmatched opponent, holding off the gritty Heat 124-114 to take a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead in NBA Finals.
They found some reasons to be encouraged Friday. They believed they played better in the second half, and not only because they outscored the Lakers 60-56. They felt they made the Lakers work harder and didn’t let them open a big gap by making a game-breaking run.
“I feel like in the second half they felt us more on closeouts, rebounding, boxing out,” said guard Tyler Herro, who started in Dragic’s place and became the youngest player ever to start an NBA Finals game at 20 years and 256 days old.
“I think we won the second half. Obviously, we’re not trying to win halves here, we’re trying to win games, but it’s a start,” added Herro, who scored 17 points on five-for-12 shooting. “We’re just going to carry that into the next game.”
Forward Kelly Olynyk, who scored 24 points off the bench in just over 37 minutes, said the Heat can take heart from having chipped away at the Lakers’ lead in the second half. Miami trailed by 18 several times in the third quarter. “I think it was just a couple plays, a couple of missed shots, a couple of offensive rebounds we gave up,” Olynyk said. “We had it right there on the edge but we just couldn’t push it over.”
The Lakers had a lot to do with that. And it might be that the Heat, even with a full roster, won’t be able to stop James and Davis. The Lakers easily penetrated the Heat’s zone defense and had a 44-37 rebounding edge. Both teams shot just slightly better than 50% on Friday, but the Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds to Miami’s six. “When you’re giving guys two, three shots to put the ball in the basket, eventually one of them is going to go in,” Butler said.
Heat reserve guard Kendrick Nunn also saw second-chance points as a key on Friday, with the Lakers scoring 21 to Miami’s 14. “We’ve just got to fight some more, smash and put bodies on guys,” he said. “They can’t just walk in the lane and just get rebounds.”
Rajon Rondo spearheads a strong effort from the Lakers’ bench in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, finishing with 16 points against the Miami Heat
But the Lakers did. As a result, Miami trails in a playoff series for the first time at the NBA’s Florida playoff bubble. “Our backs are against the wall, and how are we going to react?” Herro said. “We have two options: we can fold and we can fight, like the Miami Heat do. We know what kind of team we are. We know what we’re capable of, and next game we’re going to have to fight and make some plays. It’s not going to be easy.
“We need to empty our tanks out there and live with the results, but we can give more. We can play harder and we can control the things that we can control.”
Being more intense is one element within their control. “We’re going to fight. We’re going to ride with this thing till the wheels fall off,” Butler said. “It’s not over, you know. We’re just down 0-2. We’ve got to do something special. We’re capable of it. I wouldn’t want to be in the trenches with any other guys except for the ones that we have.”
Elliott reported from Los Angeles.
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