The Los Angeles Lakers returned to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade to face the Miami Heat in Game One inside the Orlando Bubble on Wednesday. While the Heat jumped out to a hot start in the first quarter, Los Angeles rebounded to outlast Miami 116-98 and would lead by as many as 32 points in the game.
Anthony Davis, in his NBA Finals debut, controlled the game on both ends of the court scoring 34 points and grabbing nine rebounds to go along with three blocked shots. He fought through double teams, made tough shots, and got to the free-throw line 10 times where he knocked down all of his attempts.
“[It’s the] first time I’m experiencing this,” Davis said of his first Finals game. “Obviously want to come out and play well and you want to come out and win. I’ve always put pressure on myself. I had the same thing Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, as well. When the ball gets tipped up, all that goes away and it’s just basketball, but everything leading up to it, you’re very excited.”
Davis’s performance put him in elite company with Allen Iverson (48 points), Kevin Durant (36 points), and Michael Jordan (36 points), who are the only players in NBA history to score more points in their first Finals Game. He also made franchise history by tying Lakers great Elgin Baylor for the third-most points in a Finals debut in Lakers’ history behind George Mikan and Shaquille O’Neal.
“It’s a great honor to be in that category with those guys,” stated Davis. “I mean, they have done so much for the game, Hall of Famers, and for me to come out and perform that way and be mentioned with those guys … obviously that’s a great honor, but I also want to be mentioned in categories with champions, so that’s the next step.”
The game got out to a rocky start for the Lakers. LeBron James expressed the discontentment as a team with how the game started as the Heat jumped out to a 13-point lead in the first quarter and made the necessary adjustments the remainder of the game to make up for it.
“I don’t think in the beginning that we were physical enough,” commented James. “You have to get a feel for how hard Miami plays. I think they smacked us in the mouth, and we got a sense of that. And so we knew how hard we had to play if we wanted to try to make it a game.”
Los Angeles certainly made it a game as the team shot 45 percent from the field on the night. James notched a near triple-double with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. While led by Davis and James, it was a complete team effort with a huge contribution coming from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Though Caldwell-Pope’s effect on the game does not always show up on the stat sheet, his 13 points changed the pace of the game, especially the two triples he cashed which gave the Lakers a boost when they needed it most.
“KCP saved us,” Davis said. “If they’re gonna give us shots like that we gotta be able to knock them down.”
Miami was plagued by a litany of injuries to many of their key players over the course of the game including Jimmy Butler (ankle), Bam Adebayo (shoulder), Goran Dragic (plantar fascia). Moments before halftime Butler rolled his left ankle and walked gingerly off the floor but would return. Dragic, who has been the Heat’s leading scorer throughout the playoffs, left the game with an apparent foot injury and would not return. While Adebayo collided with Lakers’ Dwight Howard in the third quarter and sustained an injury to his shoulder.
Butler managed to notch 23 points and dish out five assists, despite dealing with clear discomfort with his ankle.
The Lakers will face the Heat in Game 2 of the series on Friday in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
“We’ve got so much more work to do,” James expressed. “The job is not done. We’re not satisfied with winning one game. It’s that simple.”