After the first two games of the NBA Finals, it looked like Anthony Davis was the front-runner for Finals MVP as the Los Angeles Lakers were eyeing a sweep. Then the Miami Heat got back into the series with a big Game 3 win Sunday while Davis struggled mightily.
He dominated in the first two games of the series, averaging 33.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 63.4 percent from the field and 60.0 percent from three. The Heat had no answers.
Game 3 was an entirely different story, as Davis' aggressive, attacking style vanished. In Game 1, he got his first shot 20 seconds in and finished the first quarter with 11 points on seven attempts.
Game 2 was a similar situation, with his first shot coming at the 11:10 mark. His quarter ended with eight points on five shots.
The aggression was gone at the start of Game 3. Davis attempted zero shots but had four turnovers and two fouls. It is normal for a player to be out of rhythm with early foul trouble, but Davis didn't pick up his first foul until there was 4:48 left in the first quarter. Before that offensive foul, he already had three turnovers.
After the game, Davis said of the early fouls: "It had an impact. Picked up two early, come in and get the third. So it takes away the aggressiveness on both ends of the floor."
In Games 1 and 2, the Lakers were able to take advantage of Davis' 6'10" size when the Heat put a smaller player on him like Andre Iguodala (6'6"). However, he wasn't able to impose his will in Game 3. Below, Davis faces up on Iguodala, with Jimmy Butler giving a good dig, so he tries to back him down with no real plan and turns it over:
This time with LeBron James taking his normal rest, Davis has the ball on the elbow and throws it away. He thinks Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is lifting up, but he is sliding to the corner and Davis' pass flies out of bounds:
It is easy to see the frustration on Davis' face at the end of the play.
His struggles were not limited to just the offensive end. Defensively, he was not nearly as sharp as one would expect the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year to be. In Game 3, the Lakers had a defensive rating of 127.9 when Davis was on the court—behind only JR Smith for worst on the team. In the 15 minutes he was off the court, the Lakers' defensive rating was 90.3. That is a massive swing and abnormal for the Lakers.
It had been the exact opposite in the first two games of the series. The Lakers' defensive rating with Davis on the court was 109.2 and 121.1 when he was off.
After the game, Davis was asked about the Lakers' poor defensive showing. He said, "We were letting guys get to the rim easily with no contact. Our low-man help wasn't there tonight." On more than a few occasions, he was the missing low man for the Lakers.
The Game 3 drop-off in Davis' defense was evident on the Heat's first possession. He is guarding Jae Crowder on the weak side but is slow to react when Butler beats Danny Green off the dribble. His rotation is late, and Butler gets a dunk to start the game on his way to 40 points:
It did not get better as the game went on. Once again early in the third quarter, Davis is on the weak side attending to Crowder in the corner. The Heat run a pin-down to a dribble handoff for Tyler Herro on the strong side. As Dwight Howard steps up to help on that action, Davis is supposed to pull in and take the roll man. He never enters the paint, and Meyers Leonard is on his way for an easy dunk:
The Heat played a strong game, and Butler put on a Finals performance for the ages, but Davis' struggles had more to do with him than the Heat. He had already seen their double-teams in Game 1, and that did not slow him down. It is easy to attribute his struggles to foul trouble, but it seemed to be more than that.
In the second half, Davis had 10 points on seven shots with four rebounds and just two free throws. He finished the half with one foul and played 21 minutes. The fouls might have knocked him off his flow in the first half, but he did not play with much urgency afterward, either.
Davis' Game 3 performance is the outlier and not what the Lakers have grown accustomed to and dependent on. A lot of his mistakes were self-inflicted. It will probably go down as his worst Finals game, and if it doesn't, the Lakers are going to have serious issues closing out this Heat team.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.