Los Angeles Lakers: Game 3 Analysis

Lakers (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
Lakers (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images) /

After dropping Game 3, here are a few takeaways from the loss to the Miami Heat for the Los Angeles Lakers.

While the Los Angeles Lakers wish they could attribute the Game 3 loss to a poor shooting night, the Lakers only shot slightly below their post season average, shooting 43% FG and 33.3% 3PT compared to their post season average of 49.3% FG and 35.5% 3PT. The Purple and Gold came out extremely sloppy and played like they expected the Heat to just give them the win. On the other hand, Miami, led by a stellar performance from Jimmy Butler, played aggressively and showed the fighting spirit that got them to the NBA Finals.

The Lakers were plagued by turnovers and foul trouble, which they will look to correct in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but first, here are a few takeaways from Game 3.

No Answer for Miami’s Game Plan

The combination of the Lakers effort and focus with Miami’s adjustments made Game 3 painful to watch for many Lakers fans. In the first two games, the Lakers brought intensity and attention to detail that allowed them to pick apart the Heat’s game plan on both ends of the floor. In Game 3, Los Angeles lacked both the attention to detail and intensity, allowing the Heat’s adjustments to give them the edge they needed to secure the win.

In Game 1, the Heat played switch man defense, meaning they switched on all screens. The Lakers countered this defense by taking advantage of switches and identifying mismatches to attack. In Game 2, the Heat primarily played zone defense. As a result, the Lakers played a smaller lineup that allowed the team to stretch out the Heat’s zone. This created driving lanes for Lebron James and gave the Lakers shooters space to shoot. In Game 3, Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra decided to go back to man defense, however, this time with many adjustments from his Game 1 gameplan.

Instead of playing switch man defense, the Heat played a man defense that eliminated automatic switches and minimized defensive mismatches. Frequently, the Lakers would  employ the same strategy they used in Game 1 of trying to get Lebron James or Anthony Davis on a weaker defender like Duncan Robinson or Tyler Herro. However, the Miami Heat did an excellent job of fighting through screens and denying mismatches. Had the Lakers come to Game 3 with the same focus that they brought in the first two games, they would have detected the Heat’s adjustments and used the counters to those adjustments to punish the Heat’s defense.

Instead, the Lakers played as if the Heat were just going to hand them the game. The nonchalant play resulted in 19 turnovers, 8 of which came from Lebron James. Additionally, instead of playing to the team’s strengths and getting to the rim, the Lakers settled for three pointers and jumpshots.

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Anthony Davis’ foul trouble played a big role in the Lakers absence around the rim, however, Los Angeles still had the personnel advantage in the post and should be winning the battle in the paint. The Heat outscored the Lakers in the paint 52 to 34 which is unacceptable when the opponent is missing their starting center. With a slightly below average night of shooting, the Lakers left a lot of points on the floor by settling for lower percentage shots. The Lakers will look to return to their aggressive play of attacking the basket and valuing the basketball in Game 4.

Silver Lining

While everyone expected the Lakers to crush a beat-up Heat team after two big wins, the Lakers just simply did not deserve to win Game 3. However, there were still a few silver linings to the Lakers play. Kyle Kuzma had his best playoff game this postseason, racking up 19 points on 4-8 3PT shooting and a +6 plus-minus, better than any Lakers starter. Markieff Morris added his own 19 points on 5-11 3PT shooting, 6 rebounds, and a +10 plus-minus, the best of any Laker. While it was unfortunate that the Lakers could not capitalize on Kuzma and Morris’ performances, Los Angeles should be hopeful that the two players have found a rhythm and can continue their play for the rest of the Finals series.

Frank Vogel appeared to use the game plan, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as he used a similar game plan in Game 3 as he did the first two games. Unfortunately, the Heat coaching staff countered with smart adjustments to the previous two games’ gameplan.

However, this should not worry Laker fans just yet. In the past three series, Vogel did not make any big adjustments until the Lakers lost a game. Dwight Howard notably did not play big minutes against the Nuggets until the Lakers lost Game 3. The Lakers have yet to lose a second game in any of the first three series. Vogel has proven his ability to make key adjustments after the first loss. Fans should expect to see a change in game plan going into Game 4, which will hopefully give the Lakers an edge to close out the final two games and continue their 4-1 series win playoff trend.

Overall, expect the Lakers to come out with a new game plan and a lot of intensity as they look to win a key Game 4 to boost their series lead to 3-1. Los Angeles will take on the Miami Heat at 6pm PT on ABC.