Ninety-three days ago, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers arrived in Orlando for the NBA restart. Twenty-one other teams descended on Disney World, but the Lakers were among the few whose dreams of leaving with a championship were realistic. On Sunday, they realized those dreams in devastating fashion, overwhelming the Miami Heat in a 106-93 victory that was much more of a rout than the final score indicates.
The Lakers' performance was downright overwhelming, maybe even a little mean. For three months, the Heat have made defenses dizzy, with an unpredictable and largely unscripted attack. In Game 6, it was Los Angeles' defense that disoriented the opponent. Miami had its worst offensive output of the bubble at the worst possible time, shooting 36.2 percent through three quarters and scoring 98.9 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning The Glass.
James clinched his fourth title with a triple-double, finishing with 28 points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds and shooting 13-for-20. Davis had 19 points and shot 7-for-17, with 15 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal but his numbers do not come close to capturing the way he stymied and spooked the Heat on the other end. Rajon Rondo was masterful off the bench (19 points, 8-11 shooting, four assists) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gave the Lakers a boost offensively (17 points, 6-for-13 shooting).
In six games against the Heat, James averaged 29.8 points, 8.5 assists and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 58.6 percent and making 39 percent of his 3-pointers. He was named Finals MVP for the fourth time.
"He's the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "And if you think you know, you don't know. Until you're around him every day, coaching him, you're seeing his mind, you're seeing his adjustments, you're seeing the way he leads the group. If you think you know, you don't know. And it's just been a remarkable experience coaching him."
For Miami, Bam Adebayo had 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting, plus five assists, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Jimmy Butler, spectacular for so much of this series, saw increased defensive attention and finished with 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 45 minutes.
This is Los Angeles' 17th NBA title. It went 16-5 in the playoffs, as it won each of its first three series in five games.
Here are three takeaways from the Lakers' victory:
1. How the Lakers cooled off the Heat
In a second-half huddle, Vogel told his team it was "in the midst of a defensive masterpiece." In his victory speech at center court, he called the team a "defensive monster." Neither statement was an exaggeration; this was perhaps the single finest defensive performance by a team that has been shutting teams down for almost a full calendar year.
(Sidenote: Remember when the Clippers won the Battle of Los Angeles on opening night? That was Oct. 22, 2019. Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels all played at least 13 minutes for the Lakers. Alex Caruso got a DNP-CD. Markieff Morris wasn't on the roster. Keep this in mind when the 2021 season starts and people draw sweeping conclusions after one game.)
The Lakers made some adjustments after their last-second loss in Game 5: Caruso started in place of Howard, who had been a target for Miami's pick-and-rolls and dribble-handoffs, and Vogel's coaching staff made a concerted effort to make life harder on Butler.
Butler saw some double-teams in the post, and Los Angeles showed more aggressive help when he had the ball in his hands. This is a risky strategy against a star player that is perfectly happy to pass to open teammates -- and a team that has an abundance of playmakers -- but it worked because the Lakers executed it with such force.
"Losing a game in the NBA Finals is one of the worst experiences of my life," Vogel said. "But our group, I think, collectively felt that way. And, you know, the challenge was to channel that into effort, focus, energy and enthusiasm, positive energy, into the next game. And I put a challenge on our group to be a team that is going to respond to losses all throughout the season. We tried to never lose two games in a row, and that applied to all of these playoff series. We wanted to channel that -- whatever you want to call it -- the misery of losing a game into the next game. And boy, did we ever tonight."
Los Angeles' ball pressure was intense and its rotations were pristine. If Miami did not immediately capitalize after creating an advantage, it disappeared. Duncan Robinson, who lit up the Lakers on Friday, got an open look early in the first quarter and hardly any thereafter -- Los Angeles' wings stuck with him as he ran around screens, and his few makes were tough.
Davis, as usual, was everywhere, changing shots at the rim and discouraging the Heat from even trying to get there. But this was a connected team, with hardly any weak spots, giving a terrific collective effort. While the Lakers were forcing turnovers and finding easy buckets in transition, Miami had to work for virtually every decent look it got during the competitive portion of the game.
2. The run that clinched the championship
With less than two minutes left in the first quarter, Butler hit a corner 3 that cut the Lakers' lead to 23-19. Then Los Angeles went on a 41-15 run.
It started with Rondo and James finding shooters for open 3s, but soon the Lakers were scoring in every which way. They relentlessly ran after stops, and in the halfcourt, they didn't let Miami's rim-protecting defensive scheme deter them from attacking the paint. The more layups and dunks they converted, the more demoralizing they were, especially when they came on the fast break or after an offensive rebound. The Heat, meanwhile, could not find any semblance of flow, and they couldn't even make their free throws.
"I feel like we came out a little relaxed," Adebayo said. "They got a lead and they just kept going."
Los Angeles' lead ballooned to 30 in the second quarter. At halftime, it had 34 points in the paint and Miami had 36 points -- total.
The Heat scored just 75 points per 100 possessions in the first half and turned the ball over on more than a fifth on their possessions. It was Miami's worst nightmare.
To their credit, the Heat continued to compete when a comeback was all but impossible. All series, though, Butler has said that they needed to be nearly perfect to beat the Lakers. Miami did not have enough margin for error to overcome such a disastrous stretch.
3. Fighting through it
Goran Dragic returned from the plantar fascia tear he suffered in the Finals opener, but he clearly wasn't 100 percent. He didn't have his usual burst off the dribble, he spent many offensive possessions as merely a floor spacer and James repeatedly picked on him in pick-and-rolls.
The fact that he made it on the floor, though, is admirable. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called Dragic "one of those special human beings" and said he was honored to have been able to coach him.
"How about Goran even going out there and playing tonight?" Spoelstra said. "That's just crazy. There's no way he should've been out there. You know, he texted me the night he got hurt in Game 1. I got a text literally around 4:15 in the morning. He said, 'Coach, don't give up on me in this series. Give me a chance. I'll find my way back.' I talked to the trainers the next day, they said, 'Not a chance.' And sure enough, he's basically begging every one of us the last three games just to give him a chance."
Spoelstra said there were "several guys that were not even close to being 100 percent and probably shouldn't have been playing." Presumably, this includes Adebayo, who was dealing with neck and shoulder injuries. Adebayo could not assert his will the way he did against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, but he logged 42 minutes. At the end of his breakout season, he sounded proud of the way his Miami teammates approached the bubble -- when some in Orlando were complaining, they always wanted to be there and played like it.
"We proved people wrong throughout the season," Adebayo said. "Nobody never thought we'd get here. It's been a great season. We're brothers. We're going to fight to the end. We came up short."