The Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA Title on Sunday night, defeating the Miami Heat 106-93 in game 6 of the NBA finals. The win capped a historic year for the Lakers franchise, and a historic year for its star player, LeBron James. James finished the night with a triple double and his 4th NBA finals MVP. He has now won an NBA title and Finals MVPs with three different teams, the only player to do either. The Lakers 17th title ties them with the Boston Celtics for most titles in NBA history.
The Fraught Season
The title brought an end to a season that was especially emotional for the Lakers because of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and fraught for the League in general because of COVID-19. They won the title after spending over 2 months isolated in the Orlando Bubble. That is a long time away from home, away from their families, friends and lives. They won the title in a year that had players grapple with a pandemic as well as demands for racial justice.
How The Series Played Out
When the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 116-98 in game 1 of the NBA Finals, it was assumed they’d easily run through the NBA finals. And the narrative became, “Lakers in a sweep” after Miami’s point guard, Goran Dragic, and star bigman, Bam Adebayo, both went down with injuries.
But Miami, who played the part of Cinderella in the story of the Orlando Bubble, did not go down quietly. They stole game 3 to make the series 2-1, and nearly grabbed game 4. With the series at 3-1 in favor of the Lakers, the already once mistaken common wisdom now had the Lakers in 5. LeBron James had never lost a game 5 in his NBA career in which his team was up 3-1. But the Heat defied the odds one more time. They won a thrilling game 5, 111-108.
With their emotional energy drained, the Heat faced a Lakers team that left nothing to chance in game 6. They jumped out to an early lead, and never looked back. An 8-point first quarter lead ballooned to a 29-point halftime lead. The game was already over. The 13-point final margin of 106-93 wasn’t remotely a reflection of how dominant the Lakers were Sunday night.
Lakers: Individual Performances
Let’s put LeBron aside for a second. There were some spectacular performances from individuals throughout the series. We saw some poetic storylines play out. Anthony Davis, the most dominant big man in the NBA won his first NBA title alongside LeBron James. The duo were perhaps as unstoppable as any duo we have seen in NBA history. Davis at 27 has already etched out the foundation for a hall of fame career. He’s entering his prime and is just getting started on the winning trail.
Rajon Rondo won his second NBA title, now holding one with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s two most historic franchises. Dwight Howard finally got his long sought after NBA title, and ironically he won it in Orlando where his hall of fame career started. JaVale McGee has amassed three rings, in case you didn’t know, and JR Smith now has two rings despite not playing a minute in the NBA finals.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel who, lets face it, was chastised from the moment he arrived in LA, silenced his critics. All year long, Vogel quietly went about winning over LeBron while implementing an approach to defense that defined this team. He made it work around James and Davis with a very average supporting cast. Vogel is an elite coach. Jason Kidd, his assistant, won his second NBA title and his first as a coach.
Heat: Individual Performances
From the Heat’s side, no one expected them to get his far. Jimmy Butler had two triple doubles in the NBA finals, both coming in his team’s only two victories. Those performances rank up there with some of the best NBA Finals performances of all time. Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, the Heat’s two young stars, both former Kentucky Wildcats, got a taste of what the biggest stage in the game is like. Both showed they’re ready.
Behind head coach Erik Spoesltra, there is no doubt the Heat will be back in the Eastern Conference mix next year. Expect Pat Riley to be adding the missing pieces to their roster. From start to finish in the Orlando Bubble, they showed they’re not far off.
The Kobe Effect
Kobe Bryant’s death along with the death of his daughter, Gigi, last January lingers. In a year of horrors it is something that still brings tears to the eye. Nothing can bring them back. But nothing could have honored them more than this NBA championship. The Lakers win in 2020 – while California burns, COVID-19 rages, the nation remains divided and angry and Kobe and Gigi are gone – was a needed capper on a very, very dark year.
LeBron and the others told us months ago: This season is for Kobe Bryant. Then they went out, met all the challenges to win it for the late, great, deeply missed Black Mamba. Every championship matters. But this one for Lakers nation and the state of California, means so much more than most.