The Lakers won the 17th championship in their franchise's storied history on Sunday, drubbing the Heat 106-93. They were of course led by LeBron James, who racked up a 28/14/10 triple-double, hitting 13-of-20 shots in 41 minutes. The stats are irrelevant. What matters is that LBJ took home his fourth Larry O'Brien championship trophy and his fourth Finals MVP. Fellow superstar Anthony Davis was dominant defensively and also scored 19 points with 15 rebounds, three dimes and two blocks. Role players like Rajon Rondo (19/4/4), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17 points) and Alex Caruso (4/5/3) did the rest. The Lakers' energy on defense was overwhelming, limiting Miami to paltry 32.4% shooting from the field at halftime. At one point, coach Frank Vogel even told his team, "We're in the midst of a defensive masterpiece." He was right.
Jimmy Butler was swarmed by defenders and forced to either give the ball up or go to his left-preferred left hand -- he still finished with 12 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and a block, but didn't have enough to carry his squad to a Game 7. If nothing else, he proved he's an absolute star and the Sixers must be kicking themselves for not doing everything possible to retain him. There's been no word on whether Butler will still be selling $20 cups of coffee when he leaves the bubble.
The context of this game is easy to sum up: the Lakers led by 28 points after two quarters, which is the second-largest halftime lead in NBA history. For all of Miami's admirable fight in this series, they simply ran out of gas in a brutally lopsided loss. LeBron was in attack-mode from the opening tip, putting pressure on Miami's undersized interior defense, and he was the main reason L.A. scored a whopping 52 points in the paint tonight (they also doubled-up Miami in fastbreak points). What he's done in his age-35 season is a testament to his otherworldly athleticism and basketball IQ, but just as important is his work ethic. The man never stops. Oh, and he does it all while loudly advocating for social and racial justice in the brightest of spotlights. He's a legend in every respect.
If you're someone who likes to argue about 'who is the GOAT?' (I'm not one of them), this bubble-championship provides compelling evidence in Bron's favor. He's already the all-time leader in postseason scoring, and the fact that he's won championships with three different teams is amazing. The only other players to accomplish that feat are Robert Horry, John Salley and now his teammate Danny Green. Tonight's game also pushed LeBron past Derek Fisher for the most playoff games ever played (260). You run out of superlatives to describe what he's done, and continues to do, in his career.
The Lakers opted to go small with Alex Caruso taking over as a starter for Dwight Howard. Caruso finished with a modest four points, five dimes, three rebounds, one steal and one block, while Howard played one minute of garbage time. Explaining why he made the switch, coach Frank Vogel said, "You lose a little bit of size at the rim, but with a [Heat] team that really spaces you out, you can benefit from containment speed, penetration speed, having more ballhandlers out there." The Lakers' coaching staff clearly saw something they liked with that lineup, because the starting five of Caruso, LeBron, AD, Green and KCP had played a total of 12 minutes in the postseason prior to Sunday. It worked to perfection. Caruso was a defensive pest, and without Dwight Howard crowding the rim offensively there were tons of driving lanes for LBJ, Rondo and others. Credit to Vogel for the move.
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This loss will sting for the Heat, but they still have a ton to be proud about. The playoffs have been a breakout stage for Duncan Robinson (10 points, three 3-pointers) and Tyler Herro (7/4/3/1), with Robinson coming off a 26-point game that caused Anthony Davis to single him out as a problem. "Duncan Robinson came up too many times wide open," AD said after Game 5. "Two four-point plays." The sharp-shooter has a quick release and has proven he can shoot immediately off curls and screens, which made him a focal point of L.A.'s defense. Let's not forget that he went undrafted in 2018 and worked his way up through Miami's G League team. From a fantasy perspective, though, I'm not convinced he'll contribute enough stats in non-3-point categories to be more than a late-round specialist. I'll be watching him closely next preseason.
Tyler Herro's defensive stats leave a lot to be desired, but he's obviously a star in the making. He'd scored double-digit points in every single postseason game prior to Game 6, adding solid boards, assists and 3-pointers. He's still 20 years old, and was the youngest player ever to start an NBA Finals game (fact-check that, but I'm pretty certain). In any case, he's already been a late-round fantasy value in 2019-20, and you'll likely have to spend a mid-round pick to acquire him in your leagues next year. He's going to be a huge part of Miami's attack and will have months (we don't know how many) to work on the holes in his game before the start of 2020-21. I'm sold.
The purveyor of Big Face Coffee, Jimmy Butler himself, has been extraordinary throughout the postseason, and he reached new heights in the Finals. He joined LeBron James as the only guys to record multiple triple-doubles in the same Finals, and in Game 5 he became the first player in NBA Finals history to record at least 35 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and five steals. He's also the only player to score 40 points in the Finals without making a 3-pointer. By starting Caruso over Howard, it freed up LeBron to drape himself all over Butler defensively, and the Lakers used Danny Green to pressure him full-court on plenty of possessions. And he still notched 12/8/7 in the loss.
Goran Dragic hadn't played since the first half of Game 1 in the Finals, when he tore the plantar fascia in his left foot. It's an extremely painful injury under any circumstance, let alone playing NBA basketball, but he was surprisingly in the lineup despite being listed as 'doubtful' until an hour before tip-off. The injury couldn't be made worse by playing (it was already torn, after all), so it was a question of pain tolerance and his ability to put pressure on the foot. He checked in late in the first quarter and finished with five points, five boards, two assists and one steal despite being clearly hobbled. His chemistry with Bam Adebayo is obvious, and it'll be interesting to see if he re-signs with Miami as a free agent.
Through five games, the scoring for Miami and L.A. had been essentially dead even -- 109.0 and 109.5, respectively. The Lakers were attempting 10 more 3-pointers per game, but hitting them at a lower rate (34.9%) than the Heat (38.1%). No missed triple for L.A. stands out more than Danny Green's attempt at the end of Game 5, but they had plenty of chances prior to that, including some open looks from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that just wouldn't fall. There was a big disparity at the FT line in Miami's favor (+4.3 attempts) but L.A. had crushed them on the offensive glass (+6.0). In other words, each team evinced strengths and weaknesses going into Game 6.
The point is that Sunday's lopsided game wasn't representative of the truly amazing competition we saw not only in the Finals, but throughout the bubble playoffs (admittedly, the first round in the East wasn't exactly riveting). With zero COVID cases, and only a few violations of the league's strict bubble rules, we can call the 2019-20 playoffs an unequivocal, unexpected and thrilling success. Kudos to the entire NBA operation, from commissioner Adam Silver to Disney's hotel staff and everyone in between. Here's looking forward to 2020-21.