Lakers-Heat: Duncan Robinson broke free in Game 5 of NBA Finals, and he won’t stop moving

Tina W. Doyle

In addition to his job with the Miami Heat, Duncan Robinson is a podcast correspondent. Three weeks ago, in his regular appearance on “The Old Man and the Three” with JJ Redick, the host noted that getting 12 3-pointers off in a playoff game is not easy. 

Redick knows this from experience. Until this season, the New Orleans Pelicans guard had made the postseason in every year of his career — in 110 playoff games over 13 seasons, he attempted 12 3s once. Typically, Redick has to deal with defenders top-locking him, bumping him, holding him, doing anything they can to prevent him from getting free. Robinson has dealt with the same thing in his first playoff run. The challenge is to keep hunting shots anyway.  

At the time of the recording, Robinson was just a few days removed from a 6-for-12 performance from deep in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, his second such game in these playoffs. He told his fellow sharpshooter that, often, his objective going into a game is not to make a certain amount of 3s, but to get 10 of them off. 

By this criteria, Robinson was only successful once in the first four games of the NBA Finals — in Miami’s 115-104 win in Game 3, he went 3 for 10 from deep. In Game 5 on Friday, though, Robinson took his 10th 3 before the third quarter ended, and he finished 7 for 13 with 26 points, his best scoring game of the playoffs (and fourth-best of his NBA career). 

After the Heat extended their season with a 111-108 victory, coach Erik Spoelstra praised Robinson for the way he “just dusts himself off, continues to run his routes with great force,” despite a level of physicality from the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense that is “nothing like” what he saw in the regular season or even the first three rounds of the playoffs.    

“Coach Spo says it to me all the time: Persistence,” Robinson said. “And that’s what it’s all about for me. If you’re relentless throughout a game, you’ll get your looks. And obviously they’ve done a really good job scheming to take things away, but for me it’s just all about finding a way. Whatever it takes to get to my spots.”

Robinson went scoreless in the first game of the Finals, and only managing to take three 3s in 27 minutes. Hours after Game 2, in which he went 2 for 7 in 22 minutes, he sat in Jimmy Butler’s hotel room, where the franchise player told him he needed to run to the ball. 

“He had me over and we just chopped it up and talked,” Robinson said. “He’s hard on me but it’s because he expects a lot. And I welcome that. I love that. This whole team just wants me to be aggressive and to do my job. I thought I didn’t do it well enough, really, in those first two.”

“I think he gets lost in trying to get other people open when everybody is going to react to him probably more so than they’re going to react to me,” Butler said. “A 3 is worth more than a 2. So as long as he’s coming to the ball, shooting the ball when he’s open, when he’s not open, that’s the Duncan Robinson that we need, that we want because that’s how he’s been playing all year long.”

The Lakers have not made many mistakes defending Robinson in the series. In the first quarter on Friday, though, Robinson caught Danny Green with his head turned and cut to the corner. Butler found him for an open 3:

In the third quarter, with Kyle Kuzma chasing him, Robinson hit one of his patented dribble-handoff 3s from Bam Adebayo, earning an and-1 when he fell to the floor:

At the beginning of the fourth, he hit another one off a DHO with Adebayo on the other side:

There are only a few players on the planet who can make those kind of shots with enough regularity to take them in a professional basketball game, let alone in the NBA Finals. His most important shot, however, came in crunch time, when he faked a screen for Tyler Herro then sprinted to the top of the key, making Lakers guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso run into each other before Butler found him for a clean look:

But that might not have been his most important play. With less than two minutes left, Robinson got the ball on another DHO with Adebayo, and the situation was scary enough for Markieff Morris to leave Adebayo to try to prevent him from getting a shot off. With two defenders on him, he sprayed a pass to Butler, who was open because Anthony Davis had to cover for Morris. Butler stepped into a midrange jumper in rhythm:

Standstill shooters open things up for their teammates by virtue of the fact that defenders can’t leave them alone. Robinson, like Redick, does more than that. Opposing teams have to account for his movement, and if he gets free a few times, they get freaked out. Defenders might even run straight into each other. 

Robinson knows that he will have to work for every shot attempt he gets. He also understands that the work will pay off. If he keeps making defenders run and making defenders think, it will wear on them. Eventually, he will find a little bit of daylight, and he doesn’t need more than that.

“If I catch the ball and I can see the rim, it’s going up, pretty much,” Robinson said. 

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