Star power, defense lift Lakers to title-clinching Game 6 victory
They set themselves up with plenty of time to digest the magnitude of their accomplishment in those last game moments by building the second-largest halftime lead in the NBA Finals history. The ending was a long time coming in that sense—and in many other ways, too. After the final buzzer and just before the confetti flew, LeBron James reveled in the embraces of teammates on the court, and Anthony Davis sat alone nearby with his eyes buried in a towel.
Led by James and Davis in their first season together, the Lakers won the 2020 NBA championship Sunday with a 106-93 rout of the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. It was a unique accomplishment for this tightly knit group isolated for 95 consecutive days in Florida, playing a season that covered more than a calendar year because of the pandemic.
James spoke afterward about the incomparable elation of seeing teammates become champions—and explained how his personal sentiment is shaped by how long his journey goes.
“Live about the process,” James said, “and see the results. … We all live for that moment.”
It was a long time coming also for the legions of Lakers fans, who are frankly unaccustomed to going a decade without an NBA championship and rejoicing at the return to glory now.
The Lakers’ only other such drought in the past 50 years started after their 1987-88 NBA championship won in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s age-40 season, the penultimate season of his career. It’s fair to start wondering whether James, who turns 36 in December, can produce that kind of excellence in longevity. It would likely see him overtake Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer despite losing much of 2019 to injury and 2020 to the pandemic.
James was this team’s true captain, offering “must-win” text messages to teammates to spur their Game 4 and Game 6 victories. He delivered 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against just one turnover Sunday after urging his teammates to “treat it like it was Game 7.”
James made the most of this entire bubble opportunity the NBA created to finish his second Lakers season. He became the only players besides Abdul-Jabbar and legendary Boston Celtics Bill Russell and Sam Jones to appear in 10 NBA Finals series. Once there, he earned his fourth Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award, but his first with the Lakers—a distinction that matters to him.
James came via free agency to join the list of great Lakers champions rather than shiver in fear of their shadow. It’s why in a long embrace with Lakers governor Jeanie Buss on the court Sunday that James said he offered this sentiment: “I’m proud to be a Laker.”
It’s why Buss said on the Spectrum SportsNet postgame show about James: “A Laker through and through.”
Unlike many of his peers who went anti-bandwagon when it came to successful franchises, James has long been a fan of the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Lakers.
“I’m a supporter of winners,” he once said.
James had said last week that it’s particularly meaningful for him to help Buss to her first championship as Lakers governor. He referred to her as “an incredible owner” and “a powerful woman.”
“I’m just honored to be a part of it,” James said. “I love the history of the game, and I've read so much about Dr. Buss and his teams and his success. To be playing while his daughter is the owner of the team, I think is pretty cool.”
James averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the NBA Finals in his 17th professional season.
“He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Sunday night.
The clinching victory showcased several facets of the jewel that Vogel polished this season: players starring in their roles, bouncing back after any defeat, suffocating defense played till exhaustion.
Rajon Rondo had told everyone in the team meeting Saturday: “If we’re going to win a championship, it has to be with defense.”
That’s how the Lakers’ lead swelled to 28 points by halftime, with surprise starter Alex Caruso adding to the team’s perimeter agility.
The last time the Lakers won a title, Rondo was on the other other team. He is the only player on either the Lakers or Boston Celtics from the 2010 NBA Finals who is still an active player in the league—and on Sunday he again looked an awful lot like the same player as back then. Sharp with decisions and his finishes at the rim after puppeteer mastery in manipulating the Heat defense to create the openings he sought, Rondo finished with 19 points and four assists off the bench.
Davis added 18 points, but his all-out defense and 15 rebounds were crucial. As usual, it all revolved around Davis and James.
Recalling that previous lull in championships for the Lakers, after Magic Johnson led them to the 1988 title, it wasn’t until 2000 when the Lakers won again. It was because of what Shaquille O’Neal came to call in himself and Kobe Bryant the “greatest Laker one-two punch ever,” which is saying something.
Johnson, whose work in the front office with Rob Pelinka turned the direction of the franchise, helped bring James to town—and Pelinka did the deal to trade for Davis. The traditions of tremendous Lakers tandems and dominant big men certainly continued with this title. But Davis was someone who ranked first in the league in loose balls recovered while towering at the rim, too.
The harmony between the two set the tone for this team. James even said after winning the title: “I want A.D. to be better than me.”
“Respect. True friendship,“ said Davis, who won his first championship at age 27—same as legendary winners James and Michael Jordan. “We’re just two guys who want to win. We were able to do it tonight.”
What they did was something Jerry Buss mentioned often wanting to accomplish: a 17th all-time title, matching the Celtics for the most in league history. The Lakers returned to the top, creating yet another formula for building a team around two stars, and committing to find an ultimate positive at a time in the world when there had been plenty of negative.
“It’s remarkable,” Kyle Kuzma said. “We are such a mentally tough team. Everybody sacrificed something for the betterment of the team.”
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