ORLANDO, Fla. - LeBron James likes to say that sometimes two points are more than two points, when the score comes in an emphatic and demoralizing fashion. So can one win in a best-of-seven series have an impact bigger than just one win?
That isn't how James viewed the Los Angeles Lakers' dominant 116-98 Game 1 win over the Miami Heat. It was only one win, he said, stone-faced, after the game. When his teammates celebrated too much at certain points during it, he worked to temper their excitement.
"I've experienced moments in my career, Finals games, where you had all the momentum in the world, it felt like you had the game under control, one play here can change the course of a series or change the course of a game," James said.
He recalled Game 2 of the 2011 Finals, in which his team, the Heat, had a double-digit lead to the Dallas Mavericks. They eventually lost the game and the series.
"That (stuff) burns me to this day," James said. "I always talk about the best teacher in life is experience, I've experienced a lot."
James scored 25 points with 13 rebounds and nine assists. Anthony Davis, playing in his first Finals game, scored 34 points with nine rebounds and five assists.
"First time I'm experiencing this, so obviously you want to come out and play well, you want to win," Davis said. "I had the same thing Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals as well. When the ball gets tipped up, all that goes away. But everything leading up to it, you're very excited, your adrenaline is going early, you're so excited to be here."
Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso had plus/minus ratings of positive 20 in the first half.
Miami was led by Jimmy Butler, who shook off an injury just before halftime to keep playing and scored 23 points. More concerning for the Heat were the two starters - Goran Dragic (foot) and Bam Adebayo (shoulder) - who suffered injuries that prevented them from being able to finish the game. Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game that he wasn't sure what their statuses were moving forward.
The Lakers exposed Miami's defense, shot better than they had for most of their time in the bubble and rode Davis' presence inside to total domination.
Given Miami's history in these playoffs, the Lakers placed extra emphasis on their start. While the Lakers were 1-2 in bubble-playoff Game 1s, the Heat were 6-0 in the first two games of each of their three previous series. That 2-0 lead proved insurmountable to even a team as talented as the Milwaukee Bucks, whom the Heat faced in the second round.
This game did not seem headed for a blowout in the first quarter. With former President Barack Obama and several Lakers dignitaries among the virtual fans at midcourt, the Heat went step for step with the Lakers in the first quarter behind efficient shooting and a zone defense that worked for a time.
Miami took a 13-point lead, which was all it took for the Lakers to wake up.
"You have to get a feel for how hard Miami plays," James said. "They smacked us ... from that moment when it was 23-10, we started playing to our capabilities."
In the span of 50 seconds, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope delivered a steal, and a three, then another three-pointer that cut the Heat lead to seven. The Lakers took their first lead in the final five seconds of the first quarter.
"KCP kind of saved us," Davis said.
In all, from the 13-point deficit until halftime, the Lakers outscored Miami by 30 points, 55-25. It helped that the Lakers made 13 of their first 20 three-pointers.
By halftime, their lead swelled to 17 points. In the third quarter, when Dwight Howard found Davis on a fast break for a dunk, the Lakers took their biggest lead of the game - 32 points at 87-55.
The Heat did not surrender at that point, but they had too much ground to make up for their efforts in the fourth quarter to make much of a difference. The Lakers missed 16 of their final 18 three-pointers, but that hardly made a difference either.
Still, James began examining their breakdowns and planning for teaching points to share in film Thursday.
With 1:23 left in the game, the Lakers had a 17-point lead and substituted in Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook and JR Smith. James sat on the bench covered in towels, then got up to shake hands with each of his teammates as the clock expired.
"We always guard against (complacency), but in particular because of how much respect we have for this basketball team," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "We have great respect for those guys. We know that this is just one win. We're happy that we got one win, but obviously we have to keep our foot on the gas."
– The Lakers entered the Finals having shot 35.5% from three-point range in the playoffs. Then in the first half they made 11 of 17 three-pointers (64.7%).
– Miami star Jimmy Butler turned his ankle and appeared to be in severe pain just before halftime, but he never missed time in the game because of it. A bigger problem for the Heat may be the status of guard Goran Dragic, who did not play in the second half due to a foot injury.
– The Lakers placed great importance on winning Game 1 given the Heat's history this postseason, and they opted to started Dwight Howard right away for that reason.