The real LA Lakers finally came to play in Game 6, lowering the boom on the hapless Miami Heat team as early as the first half to win with plenty to spare 106-93. And with that, we bring to a close the longest, weirdest, most bizarre NBA season we’ve ever had.
The Lakers took the first 2 games of this title series by lopsided scores of 116-98 and 124-114. Unfortunate injuries to starters Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic placed the Heat at a great disadvantage, making many sports buffs predict a woeful sweep.
With the Heat seemingly lost, Lebron and the Lakers showed a lack of energy and a lack of interest bordering on disrespect in Game 3, allowing the Heat to steal a win 115-104. With Jimmy Butler showing pure grit on both ends of the court, the Heat were suddenly back from the dead.
Game 4 saw the Lakers revving it up once again to win a closely-fought endgame duel 102-96. But significantly, the Heat’s newbies were now becoming more comfortable with the championship pressure.
The Lakers then tried to deal the final blow in Game 5. Donning their favorite Kobe jerseys, they strutted in for the supposed title-clinching win. Only to be rebuffed by a fast-maturing Heat team which dug in and showed a clear determination to fight fire with fire. Suddenly, this was no longer the push-over team they had toyed with in Games 1 and 2. These were now gritty, tough-as-nails pugs snarling and biting and clawing, with ‘no-fear’ painted all over their faces. No longer in awe, the Heat would eke out a dangerous 111-108 decision.
It was at this point when the Lakers realized they needed to take the series more seriously now. Lebron had earlier reminded his teammates that the championship had not been won yet. Another win for the Heat would bring their confidence up in a big way. And a Game 7 would not only be embarrassing for the heavily-favored Laker team, it would put the pressure back on them, and possibly bring them to more disarray.
This time though, Lebron was simply Lebronesque, with another triple-double playoff performance for the ages. This time, AD stood for Astounding Defense, as he anchored the merciless D that confounded a visibly-spent Jimmy Butler and rattled his cohorts helpless. And this time, Playoff Rondo transformed himself to Title-clinching Rondo, with his uncanny reads and quiet leadership on and off the court.
The entire team responded to the challenge. They were simply better, they were bigger, they were badder. And they were all business in approaching the game. Erecting a whopping 28-point lead at halftime, the Lakers were merciless in administering a massacre for all the world to see. Watch, learn and feel the wrath. This is what happens to those of you who dare to challenge the mighty Lakers. Stretching the lead to 31 late in the 3rd quarter, the Lakers would ho-hum their way to a 106-93 title-clinching win.
And that’s how the cookie crumbles.
Right before the Bubble Games started, I mentioned 3 items that would greatly affect the playoffs. (Please read: The Road to the NBA Playoffs 2020.) Aside from the star power considered, I mentioned health, bench depth and team chemistry. All 3 factored in a big way in the league’s first-ever Bubble Championships.
Health played a key role in the elimination of the Milwaukee Bucks, with no less than league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo unable to play in the crucial games against the Heat. The Philadelphia 76ers likewise lost half their Batman and Robin dynamic duo with the absence of Ben Simmons, making them easy prey for the Celtics. Finally, the Miami Heat lost starters Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic right at the start of the Finals itself, drastically diminishing their chances against the eventual champs.
Some other key players who missed the playoffs partly or completely due to injuries include Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for the Brooklyn Nets, Damian Lillard for the Portland Trail Blazers, Russell Westbrook for the Houston Rockets, Aaron Gordon for the Orlando Magic, Domantas Sabonis for the Indian Pacers, Gordon Hayward for the Boston Celtics, Bojan Bogdanovic for the Utah Jazz, and Patrick Beverley for the LA Clippers. In the fast-paced and abbreviated playoff in the Bubble, any slight injury would matter.
Bench depth was supposed to give the stars the needed breather for the endgame. It allowed the stars to pace themselves and keep away from possible injuries. In last year’s Finals, Klay Thompson was forced to play more minutes when Kevin Durant got injured. Klay’s major usage led to his own injury, ultimately dooming the Warriors’ chances for a three-peat.
The Lakers had an invaluable piece in Rajon Rondo leading the Lakers’supporting cast, together with Alex Caruso, Dwight Howard and Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers’ bench contribution in Game 6 was undoubtedly one of their keys to victory. The Heat also had Iggy Igoudala, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Kelly Olynyk providing more than ample bench contribution. So that even with Bam and Goran going down with injuries, the bench was there to pick up the slack. The LA Clippers had Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, both 6th man of the year awardees; plus Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green and Reggie Jackson, all of whom could easily land a starting five role in other teams. Many sports pundits believed that the Clippers had arguably the deepest bench this year.
But then, team chemistry is paramount in creating a championship team. The Clippers may have been considered by many as the team to beat, owing to that deep bench. They still faltered, mainly on account of a lack of chemistry between their key players. They needed time to jell, time to accept each other’s roles in the grand scheme of things. And this is where the Clippers fell short. Right at the start of the Bubble Games, players were missing games for flimsy reasons, at a time they needed to hone up the team’s chemistry. Players had issues with others, something akin to the situation the Lakers had last year.
So with the Boston Celtics last year, who had more star quality in Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, etc. Given a leaner but tighter group this year, the team accomplished much, much more. A clear case of getting more with less.
Even the Lakers have had to deal with this adversity in the recent past. The Lakers were a competitive 5th to 6th place in the Western conference last year, before Lebron threw a monkey wrench on the team by having most of them offered as trade bait for AD. Lebron’s focus was to get the team to place higher than 5th overall in the west, and he knew there would be sacrifices that needed to be made. With the trade rumors circulating, the Lakers then proceeded to get themselves eliminated from the playoffs despite the presence of one of the game’s most illustrious players ever in Lebron James.
This year, the Lakers redeemed themselves. Putting their house in order and getting everyone in sync, the Lakers were able to focus on the prize. As karma would have it, the cage gods rewarded the Lakers with a crown for having produced so much positivity under the difficult circumstances.
Lebron showed leadership by example all through out. He did this by refusing to follow Kawhi’s ‘load management’ scheme, which would have conveniently diminish the number of games he needed to play. Cage fans all over were just too happy to see him compete night after night after night. And he did it by staying fit. Despite his age, despite the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, he showed respect for the sport by ensuring he was physically prepared for the playoff wars. He also showed unity with the team by leading the players to follow coach Frank Vogel’s directions. For all the blood, sweat and tears he offered, Lebron was well rewarded with his 4th Finals MVP, along with the 4 championships tucked in his belt.
The rest of the team showed respect and teamwork by following Lebron’s lead, towing coach Vogel’s line. Gone were the disconnects among players. Gone too were the bickering between players and coach, something that was very evident last year under former coach Luke Walton. Dwight Howard, whose earlier rocky partnership with the late Kobe Bryant produced zero titles, came to simply play. Rajon Rondo, faulted as a coach’s headache in his previous life, proved a big help to the coaching staff. AD, already an established superstar, accepted his role as a Robin to Lebron’s Batman. Even upper management buckled down to work. Everyone towed the line. Everyone marched to the same beat. Everyone had the same goal.
In the end, good karma rewarded them with the biggest prize. The Los Angeles Lakers finally nailed their 17th title, tying them with the oft-regarded gurus of basketball, the Boston Celtics, for the most number of titles in the NBA. This season, both teams experienced what positivity and good karma can do for a team. The same good karma that sent the underdog teams of the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets to overachieve in this memorable playoffs. Which team will carry on with the valuable lesson? Whosoever imbibes this lesson well will have a great head-start for next year’s race for the crown.
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of the Manila Bulletin. Other pics courtesy of: NY Times, Skysports, MSN.com, Bleacher Report, Inquirer Sports, LA Times, CTV News, The Press-Enterprise, Silver Screen and Roll, Chat Sports, Kim Klement/USA Today, John Raoux/AP Photo and the Korea Times.