The Los Angeles Lakers are your 2020 NBA Champions!
Let it sink in.
What a team. What a season. What a clinching game.
The story of game 6 is what the story of this season has been. That, when the Lakers want to and when they commit to doing it, are simply a smothering defensive team that can snuff out whatever you’re trying to do offensively, force a stop or a turnover, and then race the other way for a transition basket. The Lakers, in their most devastating form are one part sledgehammer, one part sports car, one part bomber plane.
They were all of that in the championship clincher, revving up to an 8 point lead after the 1st quarter and outpacing the Heat by another 20 points in the 2nd quarter to race out to a 28 point lead at halftime by suffocating a Heat team that looked fatigued and not ready to match wills with a motivated and locked in Lakers defense. And while the game was not technically won at that point, the hole was too deep for Miami, whatever resolve they had would not be enough.
The rest of the game was the Lakers simply doing what needed to be done. Their 3rd quarter was one of doing just enough to snuff out whatever thoughts of a comeback the Heat could muster. Every mini-run answered, every potential hint at momentum changing jerseys met with more force. By the time the 4th quarter came, it didn’t matter that the Lakers let their foot off the gas because the Heat were already trying to push their own vehicle uphill in a race to the final buzzer.
It did not matter that the Heat outscored the Lakers by 16 points in the final period. They still lost the game by 13 points. The Lakers are your 2020 NBA Champions. They did it with defense and resolve and by playing together. They did it with LeBron James reasserting himself as the best player in the world and with Anthony Davis showing he too belongs in that conversation, with his defense being nearly as impactful as LeBron’s offense.
In the end, LeBron has another Finals MVP in his trophy case to go along with another NBA Championship. It is, seemingly, as it always was. With LeBron showing that he almost always finds a way, that he’s nearly impossible to outmanveuver when it comes to competing to be the final team standing.
Credit to Frank Vogel for how this game played out. In the wake of a win like this, you’re going to hear a lot about LeBron and AD — and deservedly so. But, it was Vogel who made some crucial decisions and adjustments for game 6 that paid huge dividends.
He started Alex Caruso for the first time all playoffs, swapping him into the starting 5 in favor of Dwight Howard. And, boy, did Caruso deliver.
Forget the stats, those are immaterial. Instead, focus on how Caruso’s speed and quickness defensively helped hold the Heat down. Focus on how Caruso’s ball handling and decision making as a passer allowed Bron to work more off the ball offensively and find different angles and attack points to hurt the Heat. Focus on how AC’s off ball work as a cutter and a screener, helped create openings for teammates to get open shots. There’s a reason he was a team high +20 in the boxscore this game. He made winning plays all night.
As Vogel went away from Dwight entirely this game, the pressure shifted not only to Caruso but to every other wing and perimter player as well. Enter Playoff Rondo. He attacked the rim off the dribble early and often for layups. He bombed 3-pointers when the defense sagged off him (both because they didn’t respect his jumper, but also because they were concerned with his driving). He rebounded well, set up his teammates, and competed hard defensively all night. Just an absolutely massive throwback performance from Rondo to get his 2nd NBA championship.
And KCP was huge, too. His 3 point shot wasn’t as on as it’s been in other games, but the rest of his offensive performance was wonderful. He was a monster in transition and his ability to race out for layups in transition really helped create the separation the team used to pull away in the 1st half. His defense was again stellar too, chasing Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro all over the floor to deny them good looks coming off picks. He was a tireless worker on both ends of the floor and there’s no way the Lakers win this series without his contributions.
And while I could go on and on about the contributions both big and small by the rest of the role players, I want to save a final word for Danny Green.
Green was not his best these playoffs and particularly this series. An issue with his hip clealy hampered him these Finals, limiting his mobility and effectiveness as a shooter. And, after missing the would be game winning shot in game 5, it would have been easy for him to let the outside criticisms he and his fiancee got from social media weirdos get to him. Instead, Danny was as professional as ever and was able to recover this game by hitting shots and continuing to play top flight defense. He’s a pro’s pro and I’m honestly just so happy for him.
I couldn’t write about this game without talking about Bron and AD. Bron tallied his 11th triple-double in a Finals game and was simply exquisite offensively. After the game 5 loss, Bron came back as strong as ever, attacking the paint early and often to set the terms of engagement for the Lakers offense. It was clear from the outset that Bron was not going to let his team languish offensively and that he was going to do everything in his power to attack the front of the rim relentlessly in order to generate easy baskets for himself and his team.
And just as Bron set the tone offensively, AD did it defensively. His move to center allowed him to play against Bam almost exclusively and put him into a roaming position where he could be the ultimate help defender. He took away angles by laying off Bam, deflecting passes and challenging shots that were taken anywhere near his vicinity.
By the time the Lakers were in the midst of their massive 2nd quarter push, Miami’s offensive players were seeing ghosts in the paint defensively, all because of the presence AD had shown to that point the game. The result was airballed floaters and missed shots in the restricted area simply because AD was lurking. Just a masterful defensive performance in the biggest game of the season.
To think, by the time the season ended it was pretty clear that the Lakers have the best offensive player in the league and the best defensive one. Both equally valuable and important to the team’s success and both proving to be pretty damn good on the other side of the ball too. Who knows where they’ll go down in the history of great Lakers’ duos, but they’re off to a wonderful start, I’d say.
A final word on the Heat. I started this series singing their praises and speaking to how much I admired them as a team and as a franchise. The respect I had for them before this all started has only intensified. Despite the final score to this game, they never gave in; they never stopped competing. In this series they suffered crucial injuries and were never really whole even after those guys eventually made their way back.
But the Heat never made excuses, never once stopped believing in themselves. They tweaked their rotations and their schemes. They seemingly had a new wrinkle every game, a wrench to throw into the Lakers plans. Jimmy Butler played like a God and the role players rose to the moment. They were wonderfully coached, played hard and together, and left it all on the floor. By the time game 6 came around, they had so very little left to give, but they fought their hearts out anyway.
They’re the epitome of a worthy opponent and a group who deserve every bit of respect. They earned it.
We’ll have more on this Lakers team and on game 6 in the coming days. But, for now, celebrate Lakers fans. The Lakers are back on top and, oh, what a feeling it is.