Anthony Davis is disruptive force on defense in Game 4 win

Lakers' Anthony Davis gets a pass off in front of Miami Heat's Andre Iguodala.
Lakers’ Anthony Davis gets a pass off in front of Miami Heat’s Andre Iguodala in the second quarter in Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Orlando on Tuesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Frank Vogel couldn’t sleep.

The Lakers coach had just lost in the NBA Finals for the first time, the emotions tearing up his insides like gas station sushi. After two hours, he woke up and got back to work.

“The film is always therapy,” Vogel said. “The answers are in the tape.”

It was then, around 3:30 a.m. on Monday that Vogel started to craft the decision that has the Lakers on the cusp of their 17th NBA title after a 102-96 victory Tuesday night.


Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in Game 3, shooting over or running through all of the defenders the Lakers tried.

When LeBron James started possessions guarding Butler, he switched off without much fight, and Butler hunted out players such as Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 102-96 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Oct. 6, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Here are the best photos from the game.

Oct. 6, 2020

It was all there, right in front of Vogel’s tired eyes.

His reverence for game film is no secret. He, like Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, began his professional coaching career in that department, cutting and studying hours and hours of film.

He knew the Lakers needed to be bigger, that his defense had to push more into Butler. Anthony Davis, Markieff Morris and James were the best bets to do it. All three have size, strength and agility.

“Anyone else,” Vogel told his team, “and we’re not switching onto Butler.”


Davis would get the starting assignment because Vogel thinks he’s the best defender in the world. But it wasn’t that simple.

In Game 3, he was a wreck, with early foul trouble derailing his feel for the game. Davis played only 11 minutes in the first half, and finished the game with 15 points and zero impression on the outcome.

LeBron James was a no-show for the first half of Game 4 against the Miami Heat, but his stardom and leadership emerged when the Lakers needed it most.

Oct. 7, 2020

“Coming off a game where AD had massive foul trouble, that was a hard decision to put him on him at the start of the game because I was concerned it could happen again,” Vogel said. “That would’ve screwed up the whole game.”

Butler started hot. He made his first five shots in the quarter, single-handedly keeping the Heat in the game (along with the Lakers’ turnover problems). But the Lakers kept pressing along with the plan, making sure Davis, James and Morris spent as much time connected to Butler as possible.

He missed his next seven shots.

“I just tried to be locked into him,” Davis said.

Even while he was pulled away from the basket on Butler, Davis found his way to the rim, where his presence is unmatched.

Early in the game, Tyler Herro had a breakaway and just Davis’ presence trailing the play forced a miss.

Yes, he blocked four shots, but there were probably four more that Miami didn’t take in the paint just because Davis was around. After one unnecessary kickout, Andre Iguodala, who just passed up an open dunk, looked in Davis’ direction after the play as if to say, “I thought you were right here.”

It’s why the Lakers felt so passionately that Davis, not Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, should have been the NBA’s defensive player of the year.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 102-96 win over the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

“We said that all year because of his ability to guard one through five, guard anybody out on the floor, take the challenge and not only guard on the perimeter but continue to protect the paint,” James said. “Guards drive on him and it’s hard to score. … The guy can do everything defensively.”

Butler finished with 22 points, and though he was one assist away from another triple-double, he didn’t control the game as he did Sunday.

“It was very easy for him. The floor was very open. He got what he wanted,” Davis said about Game 3. “… I just wanted to take all of that away.”

With the Heat clinging to the last shreds of hope down seven with 20 seconds left, Butler drove to the basket. And without much trouble, Davis swatted it away.

It was the last play that cemented Vogel’s decision, that he was right to risk it with Davis guarding the Heat’s best player.

“That was my first experience losing a game in the NBA Finals,” Vogel said. “And I hope I never do it again.”