LeBron James provided the typical all-around excellence that has been a defining trait of his career, and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the pesky Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.
The Lakers’ 102-96 victory gave them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
In addition to LeBron’s strong performance, Anthony Davis chipped in with 22 points, nine rebounds and four blocks for the Lakers, who outrebounded the Heat 51-44.
Miami’s Jimmy Butler, who led all players with 40 points in a Game 3 triple-double, had 22 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists.
Game 5 is on Friday at the Walt Disney World Complex in Florida.
The Lakers improved to 56-0 this season, including the playoffs, in games in which they held the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Asked by a reporter about that statistic and the team’s focus in the fourth quarter, James responded by saying, “I think the fourth quarter, obviously it’s winning time. You’ve got 12 minutes to buckle down defensively with the lead, kind of hold that lead, and then you have to execute offensively.”
The Lakers leader added: “Obviously, I didn’t know the stat coming into tonight. But for us, that’s just the mindset. We’ve got 12 minutes. If we have the lead, it’s our job to outscore the opponent or to hold them to (as many) points as us, which is the same exact thing, because if we win the quarter, we win the game. That’s kind of been our mindset all year long.”
Solid outing for Lakers’ role players
With James and Davis setting the tone, the Lakers also received a big boost from a number of other players. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 10 of his 15 points in the first quarter, Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris had nine points apiece, Alex Caruso added seven points, and Rajon Rondo handed out five assists.
LeBron’s mindset for Game 4
After a team meeting on Tuesday morning, LeBron James took a nap and then sent a text message to Caldwell-Pope and Morris, repeating the message that it was a “must-win game.”
After the game, the NBA legend discussed his message to his teammates.
“When I woke up from my nap this morning after our team meeting, I just felt that. I felt that vibe,” James revealed. “I felt that pressure. I felt like for me personally, this was one of the biggest games of my career, (and) I just wanted to relay that message to my teammates, the type of zone I was in, the type of moment it was, and the kind of team we were playing against. After the Game 3 win, that confidence they had, the confidence they still have even after tonight’s loss. They are just a gritty, so damn-well-coached team.”
As a result, LeBron issued a challenge to to his teammates.
“I feel like if we’re going to be a championship ballclub, if we want to really be a championship team, that we got to have that same grit and that same attitude,” he reflected. ” It was my mindset. I’m still in it. You can see my mind kind of working right now.”
Controlling the game flow
The Lakers held the lead for the entire second half.
Entering the third quarter, they held a 49-47 advantage.
Indeed, Davis’ defensive effort played a big part in keeping the Lakers in front.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel credit Davis for limiting Butler’s effectiveness two days after he dropped 40 points on LA.
In the first quarter, LeBron was the primary defender on Butler, and the Heat star went 5-for-5 from the field. For much of the game thereafter, Davis kept Butler in check.
“Obviously, Anthony’s matchup on Butler was a big factor in our defensive efficiency,” Vogel told reporters. “He did a great job. Jimmy is so great, it’s hard to even slow him down but AD did a great job. It starts there but you have to credit our guys’ competitive spirit. They were flying around and just competing at an extremely high level that end of the floor.”
Vital numbers for Heat
Miami rookie Tyler Herro had 17 points on 8-for-18 shooting, while backcourt mate Duncan Robinson finished with 17 points. After missing two games with neck and shoulder injuries, Heat big man Bam Adebayo was back in the lineup and contributed 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals in 33 minutes.
“(Bam) passed all the protocols with his mobility and strength, and I thought he was great considering he hasn’t played in a week or hasn’t really done anything other than rehab,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra commented after Game 4 against the Lakers. “But he’s the heart and soul of who we are. So it was just great to have him back out there, and I don’t have to deal with him trying to stare a hole through me anymore.”
A ‘sense of urgency’
In holding the Heat to 42.7 percent shooting from the floor, the Lakers exhibited a commitment to defense. This pleased Davis.
“Defensively I think we were just better overall,” Davis stated. “We were locked into what we were doing. We still had mistakes but some of the mistakes we had, we just cover for each other. … But we seemed like we played with a little bit more sense of urgency tonight.”