On the Heat’s opening offensive possession of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Tyler Herro took a handoff from Bam Adebayo, realized he had drawn two bodies and threw a lob to Adebayo for an easy dunk. Herro and Adebayo obviously initiated the action, but it was Duncan Robinson who allowed the play to flow unimpeded.
Robinson moved from the opposite corner to the wing, and those few steps were enough to keep Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out of help position.
Los Angeles has been content to give up the occasional 2 as long as it could prevent Robinson from catching fire. It’s a smart strategy, considering he is one of the league’s best scorers in both catch-and-shoot and handoff situations. In Game 1, the Lakers held Robinson to three total field goal attempts; through the first three games of the series, he missed 15 of his 20 3-point attempts.
It was a different story Friday night. Robinson finally got loose, and he made the Lakers pay. The 26-year-old scored 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting (7 of 13 from beyond the arc) in Miami’s 111-108 win, giving a triumphant (and exhausted) Jimmy Butler the help he needed to stave off elimination.
In fact, Butler may have been partially responsible for Robinson’s explosion. Robinson revealed he spoke with Butler after Game 2, and the All-Star forward pushed him to keep being aggressive knowing that Robinson would eventually break through.
“Can’t shoot the ball if you don’t have the ball,” said Butler, who posted 35-12-11 triple-double in Game 5. “I think he gets lost in trying to get other people open when everybody’s going to react to him probably more so than they’re gonna react to me. A 3’s worth more than a 2.”
As the series has progressed, Robinson has grown more comfortable initiating contact with his defender prior to pursuing the ball and creating the space necessary to rise up for his shot. It doesn’t take much.
“I thought he was just so persistent, and their level of physicality on him as well is nothing like the regular season or nothing like the first three rounds,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He just dusts himself off, continues to run his routes with great force. He broke free a few times, and he didn’t break free a few times. Still was able to put some pressure on them.”
When he couldn’t get free, Robinson still bent the Lakers’ defense. On a late fourth-quarter possession, Robinson set off alarm bells and caused Markieff Morris and Alex Caruso to fly toward him. Anthony Davis had to drop toward Adebayo because of the double-team, giving Butler enough room to dribble into a rhythm jumper.
Thought this was another big play in retrospect. Robinson’s threes had an impact. He gets the handoff, Morris has to jump up. Bam rolls and AD helps on him off Butler. Skip to Butler who takes and makes the midrange. It all tied together for Miami here. pic.twitter.com/1K7o8ya6WO
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 10, 2020
As much as Robinson deserves credit for stepping up in a win-or-go-home contest, the Lakers also just flat out lost him. There were a lot of rough freeze frames.
Hey Danny Green, that’s your guy. Yes, the one waiting for his cleanest look in a long time.
Alex Caruso picked up the ball in transition. Rajon Rondo picked up … the space near the elbow.
KCP is just hanging out. Let him know if you want more bread.
Screening your own teammate? Generally a bad idea.
Those mental lapses alone resulted in 12 points. It’s easy to focus on LeBron James passing to Green for the potential game-winner or late foul calls that led to Butler free throws, but defensive breakdowns on Robinson are among the biggest reasons why the Lakers are preparing for Game 6 instead of flying home with the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“I thought I was a little bit more persistent tonight about just getting to the ball and getting to my spots,” Robinson said. “That helps obviously. It also helps to see some go, just builds the confidence more.”
Robinson had a rough start in his first Finals experience, but like any NBA sharpshooter, he only needs to see a few fall through the net. The Lakers learned their lesson the hard way.