How quickly things can change.
Just one week ago, I wrote about how it's time to give the Los Angeles Lakers role players the credit they deserve.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris were shooting the lights out, Rajon Rondo had taken playoff form, Dwight Howard played himself into the starting lineup with quality minutes and Alex Caruso stepped up as the team's top perimeter defender (after LeBron James, of course). Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green were struggling with consistency, but they still had their moments.
The role players around James and Anthony Davis had been under fire all season long but were stringing together their best play at the right time and had given their two superstars enough support to own a 14-3 record in the playoffs, two wins away from an NBA title.
There have been three games since writing that piece, and in Game 5, the Lakers saw all of that come crashing down.
If someone had told you prior to Game 5 that LeBron would finish with 40 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists with a chance to close things out and win the NBA championship, you'd assume Los Angeles won, right? Add to it that Davis went for 28 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, and you'd almost certainly believe there was no way the Lakers could lose that game.
Well, that's exactly what happened. While the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson deserve a ton of credit for their gutsy performances to keep their team's title hopes alive, you can't help but feel as though the Lakers' supporting cast let that one slip away.
There's two obvious starting points: Green's missed 3-pointer and Morris' turnover.
James delivered a pass to an open Green with a chance to win the championship, and he clanked it off the rim. Morris made a great play to chase down the offensive rebound but immediately panicked, missing several open teammates before sailing a pass well over Davis' head to decide the outcome of the game.
The Heat defense locked up the Lakers to clinch Game 5. #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/TDGfPcsNOx- ESPN (@espn) October 10, 2020
And while those are the two plays that stand out from the loss, there's much more to it than that.
Morris missed both of his 3-point attempts, going scoreless for the game with just one rebound in 24 minutes of play.
Starting centre Howard was transparent in 15 minutes, scoring just two points to go with two rebounds and zero blocked shots. He also committed a costly flagrant foul on Butler in the third quarter, which resulted in a six-point possession for the Heat.
On the wing, Caldwell-Pope was as solid as he's been all postseason, scoring 16 points on 3-for-8 shooting from 3, but he did miss three consecutive go-ahead 3s in the final three minutes of the game.
Kuzma's inconsistency on the offensive end continued, scoring just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field and 0-for-4 from 3 with a team-worst minus-17 plus/minus. It was his second straight game failing to reach double figures and third of five games in The Finals. He also had a bad foul on an and-one 3-pointer for Robinson that helped Miami build its lead to six points just before the end of the third quarter.
At guard, Rondo had one of his most ineffective games of the entire playoffs, scoring just four points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field. He did have five rebounds, five assists and two steals, but his impact wasn't felt the way it typically has been this postseason, as evidence of Lakers head coach Frank Vogel leaving him on the bench to close the game when he's usually on the floor in crunchtime.
As for Caruso, he had just three points, three boards and three assists to go with three turnovers, including an ill-advised charge at the end of the third quarter and a crucial giveaway down the stretch of the fourth quarter.
The Lakers' role players are far from perfect but had played well enough as a unit to overcome mistakes and inconsistencies to get help the team to where they are now.
They'll have to get back to that level if Los Angeles is going to take care of business and wrap up this series in Game 6.
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