Lebron James clutches NBA Finals and MVP Trophy after the Lakers won Game 6 of the 2020 NBA finals. Photo courtesy of @NBA on Twitter
The Lakers played the most complete half of basketball in these playoffs
One thing LeBron James does better than anyone else is not lose to teams he’s not supposed to lose to. It’s happened once in a big spot. In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks broke James. He had 46 points total in the final three games of those Finals including an eight-point performance in Game 4. Since then LeBron hasn’t lost to an inferior team and has shown up in every moment of uncertainty.
The Lakers lost Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals, but not because of James, who turned in a 40-point performance on 15-of-21 shooting. The difference in Game 6, a game Los Angeles won 106-93 and were up by as many as 36, was that this entire Lakers team showed up the way a LeBron-led team does when they have a chance to clinch a title.
That, in a nutshell, is why James is one of the best of all time. He consistently takes teams deeper than they should go and gets the very best versions out of less-than-inspiring role players. But LeBron and company were playing inspired basketball in Game 6.
They were everywhere. On both ends of the floor. It was the most complete half of basketball from any team in these playoffs and the Heat finished with just 36 first-half points.
On the offensive end, Rajon Rondo turned back the clock, starting the game 6-of-6 from the field and becoming just the fourth player in NBA Finals history to do that. He finished the first half with 13 points and ended the game with 19 points, four assists and four rebounds. He was getting to the rim in transition, setting up teammates and knocking down threes. It was Playoff Rondo in every sense of the phrase.
Alex Caruso got the start in place of Dwight Howard and made his presence known in the first half, winning every 50/50 ball that he had a chance of getting. He outrebounded Bam Adebyo on multiple occasions and forced extra possessions for Los Angeles
James led the Lakers with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, acquiring his 11th Finals triple-double and his fourth ring. Anthony Davis was overcome with emotion as he and Dwight Howard secured their first rings.
After his unbelievable 35-point performance in Game 5, Jimmy Butler finished with just 12 points on 10 shots. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro were a combined 6-of-18 from the floor due largely to the Lakers defense.
Adebayo had his best game of the Finals turning in 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists but it didn’t matter. Los Angeles was just too good.
The Heat always had their backs against the wall in this series. They were going to need to take the fight to the Lakers, limit mistakes and keep the Lakers from getting out in transition. They weren’t able to do any of those things in Game 6.
The Lakers at one point in the first half were outscoring the heat 16-0 in the fast break points category and 26-10 in the paint. They were constantly communicating on defense and were quick on rotations forcing the Heat into making mistakes that they don’t usually make.
Ultimately, The Lakers won the fast break, points in the paint, rebounding and shooting battles despite losing the fourth quarter by 16 points. They were that dominant through the first three quarters and the game felt like it was over at halftime.
The Lakers played such a complete half of basketball that they didn’t need 70 combined from Davis or LeBron. Davis scored 19 points and just four in the second half because the Lakers were on cruise control after the break.
They came out and put a team to rest the way a LeBron team puts a team to rest.
Role players made it happen all playoffs, and did it again tonight
The biggest question for the Lakers coming into these playoffs was whether or not the L.A. role players would be good enough behind James and Davis to beat high-level basketball teams.
The answer has been a resounding yes and it was again in Game 6.
The Lakers played 21 playoff games in the bubble. They had multiple double-digit efforts from role players in all but one of those games. That one instance came in Game 5 of the Finals when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the only player not named James or Davis to score more than nine points.
In the clincher, KCP and Rondo led the way with 36 points combined on 14-of-24 shooting. The pair was +13 in +/- and +18 if you add Danny Green who had 11 points of his own and knocked down three triples.
Whether it was Markieff Morris reinventing himself scoring 16 points in Game 5 against the Rockets and playing impactful basketball throughout the Finals or Caruso scoring 10 in Game 1 of the Finals, the Lakers got role player contributions every single night. Caldwell-Pope was once upon a time a player let go by the Pistons and his impact was the deciding factor in multiple games against the Heat.
James and Davis had to be incredible. That was a given and it was clear how vulnerable they were when they didn’t both perform. But what was going to get the Lakers to a championship was those small contributions from the Caruso’s and Rondo’s of the world and they were a main reason why the Lakers went 16-5 in these playoffs.
The NBA did the impossible, and that must be noted.
The NBA season has come to an end. There were 172 games played in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, at Walt Disney World. It’s been 93 days since teams started arriving in the bubble on July 10.
Since early July, the NBA has seen zero positive cases inside of their bubble. They ended the regular season in the best way they knew how and had a playoffs that was uninterrupted in any way by the global pandemic.
They found a way to put “fans in stands” through technology and the playoffs delivered in terms of intensity despite not having 20,000 screaming fans at each game.
The puzzle the NBA had in front of them was virtually impossible. It was hard enough to figure out how to put a bubble together and complete the season. Not only did they do that, but the league and its players worked together to ensure they were being vessels of social justice throughout the entirety of those 93 days.
Hats off to the NBA and those involved in the Orlando bubble. It’s fitting that a team that was at the top of the Western Conference all year is the last team standing, but crowning a champion was not a given and the league deserves all the credit for making it happen.
Congrats, Adam Silver, players and coaches for doing the impossible. Congrats LeBron, AD and company on surviving 93 days in the bubble and winning a championship. See you soon, NBA.
Photo courtesy of @NBA on Twitter