Needing just two more wins to secure their first NBA title in a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers are calling on each other to buckle down defensively against a gritty Miami squad that has refused to fold even in the absence of two All-Stars.
The Lakers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series on Friday in Orlando, after a 124-114 win over the Heat. Anthony Davis missed just five of his 20 shots en route to a 32-point, 14-rebound outing, while LeBron James had 33 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists.
Miami played without injured All-Stars Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, yet they refused to go away easily even after falling behind by 18 points behind a hail of jumpers from Davis. Thanks to Jimmy Butler and Kelly Olynyk, the Heat remained within striking distance in the fourth quarter though they could never quite get over the hump.
"For us, we have to do a better job communicating on the defensive end and being in coverage," said Davis after the game.
Davis, who has been unstoppable in the Finals, noted that even without Adebayo and Dragic, the Heat's offense still hummed.
"They just play so free. Everybody is moving. Everybody is cutting. Everybody on the floor is live. Everybody just is kind of doing random things," he observed.
"It's tough on the defense. You really have to talk. You really have to communicate. You really have to know what schemes you're in," he added.
He stressed the importance of communication for the Lakers, particularly on the defensive end. In Game 2, Miami showed its explosiveness in the third quarter when they put up 39 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field.
It allowed them to stay in the hunt even after Davis put up 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the quarter.
"We can't assume somebody is going to be somewhere. We have to talk and relay the messages in the defensive schemes and the calls to one another so that we let the other guy know what we're in, so we don't have too many hiccups or too many mistakes," said Davis.
James was in full agreement with Davis, admitting that they were "not happy with our defensive presence" in Game 2. The Lakers allowed the Heat to shoot 50.7% from the field, including 40.7% from beyond the arc. Miami also made 31 of their 34 free throw attempts.
They had a defensive rating of 125.3 -- their worst so far of the playoffs.
"We know we can be a lot better and we're just, myself and AD (Davis), we're not satisfied with just the win. We want to be great. We want to be great, as close to 48 minutes as possible," said James.
"We're playing against a very dangerous team in Miami, where they have five guys on the floor that's a threat, as they have shown tonight," he added. "So we have to continue to stay on our P's and Q's and cross our T's and dot our I's throughout the course of a game, and if we have a breakdown, being able to cover for one another."
"But they do a great job of putting your defense in positions that you may not be accustomed to," James also acknowledged. "We definitely were not happy with our performance defensively tonight."
"We know we can be better in Game 3."
Game 3 is scheduled for Monday morning, Manila time. Both Adebayo and Dragic have officially been listed as "doubtful" for the contest.
Dragic has been the Heat's leading scorer throughout the playoffs, and Adebayo is the fulcrum of their offense as well as their best post defender. Having both back in the fold will put more pressure on the Lakers defense -- a challenge they are well aware of.
"We have to do some things better, a lot of things better on the defensive end," said LA coach Frank Vogel.
"But that's what getting to work and the process is all about. We review the film, meet tomorrow as a team, and make some improvements."