By Arnie Leshin
One-2-3 mamba, on their last night under the “bubble”, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to hoist their 17th National Basketball Association championship trophy. That was Sunday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena VIsta Fla.
Monday morning they will be up, up and away, flying home to celebrate what they spent more than 90 days under COPID-19 protection in the bubble, and strictly not allowed to leave the area unless there was an emergency. Now they attend to schedule a celebration for their fans outside the Staples Center their home court.
The 106-93 final score in this, game six of the best-of-seven finals between top-seeded Los Angeles, the Western Conference champion, and the 5th-seeded Miami Heat, which won the Eastern Conference, was no indication of how this game was dominated by LeBronJames, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the cast under first-year head coach Frank Vogel.
Los Angeles led 28-20 after one quarter, 64-36 at the half, and 87-58 after three quarters. Miami cut the gap by having a 35-19 scoring advantage in the final quarter, but most of its baskets were not closely guarded. The biggest lead was 37 points midway through the third quarter.
Yes, it was truly no contest from start to finish. Playing in their usual purple and gold uniforms, and not the Kobe Bryant-inspired black and yellow scripted “Black Mamba” outfits that they wore in game five that they lost, and were 4-1 wearing them. But it didn’t matter what they wore, the Lakers quickly looked on a mission they wanted to reach this night. They raced to a 13-point lead midway through the opening quarter, piled it on in the second quarter, and Miami, which was down 3-2 in games, made at least three time outs in that span.
With the 6-foot-11 Davis inserted in the 5 spot for this game, the inside was clogged up by hid length, wing span and quickness, he also kept Miami from passing the ball inside, and he backed the Heat up with fear of blocks by him. And to the tune of “This is my Country”, Davis made that area his “This is my Area.”
It was the first NBA final for the former Kentucky All-America and all he did was show people how worthy he was of being signed by the Lakers to become James’ sidekick. It worked like magic, not the legendary Hall of Fame Magic Johnson, but Anthony Davis. James, who turns 36 next week, did his part to get the franchise here in his 17th year. He scored, he rebounded, he assisted, he handled the ball under pressure, and he provided the leadership.
But Davis was a gift. He was what this team needed, someone tall and agile who could be equally adept scoring from inside and outside, someone who could run the floor like a forward, someone who could block a shot into the stands, play defense, and hustle, and the former New Orleans Pelican was just that. He did what he had to, the 6-9 superstar James did what he had to, and he now has four NBA title, the two while with Miami, the one with his hometown neighbor Cleveland Cavaliers, and now in his second season with Los Angeles, but last season was wiped out when James was injured.
When it was over, James kissed the expected Most Valuable Player Award after team owner Jeanie Buess hugged the championship trophy, and then the overjoyed James hugged both awards as the franchise gained the finals for the first time in a decade when it defeated the Boston Celtics in 2010.
It was a dandy happy road Vogel traveled in his first stay with the Lakers after previously coaching the Indiana Pacers. He might not have been the first choice, but it didn’t matter, no one could have done better, and that’s a fact.
The franchise has now tied its rival Boston Celtics for NBA championships, with the Minneapolis Lakers winning the first five before the franchise moved to the West Coast, gained the celebrity crowd, actor Jack Nicholson bought season courtside seats for about $1,000 a game, and it was rare when it didn’t attract a capacity turnout.
But in these playoffs, there were the restrictions that couldn’t be overcome. A limited amount of spectators numbering from 20-30, some limited media, NBA officials, referees, and the sports complex workers. With help along the way from huge pickup point guard Rajon Rondo, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, sixth man guard Alex Caruso, veteran forward Danny Green, veteran 6-11 post Dwight Howard, and valuable guard/forward Kyle Kuzman, these Lakers turned back the Portland Trailblazers in five games, the Houston Rockets in five games, and the Denver Nuggets in five games.
Can’t forget what a game effort Miami gave under head coach Erik Spoelstra. It battled back getting routed in game one and lost game two in the final minutes, before winning game three in fine style, losing game four, spoiling Los Angeles’ bid for the title in its Black Mamba uniforms. From the time the late Laker Hall of Fame Kobe Bryant died in January on a helicopter clash in California, the franchise has dedicated this season to Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter who also perished.
And so it all brought a championship, a celebration, but it also brings sadness when Bryant is in the discussion, although theLakers’ owner spoke about the legendary of Bryant after she was presented the championship trophy by NBA Commissioner
As for James, he was outstanding, which is old news. He tossed in the game-high 28 points brought down 14 rebounds, handed out the game-high 10 assists. Yes, he was tired but as he later said, he will play until he can no longer play the way he is expected to. He added it’s either the right road or the wrong road, and he’s staying on the right one.
Davis was again the other hand of this one-two punch, scoring 19 points, scrubbing the boards for the game-high 15 rebounds, dishing out three assists, blocking four shots, stealing the ball three times, and just a menace on defense. Oh, and he converted 26-of-26 free throws in the playoffs. That’s usually done by a guard, not a post player.
James continues to shatter playoff records. He has now played in the most NBA playoff games, has played the most minutes, has scored the most points, hauled down the most rebounds, is second-best in assists behind John Stockton, has made the most free throws and field goals, and is seventh in blocked shots and eighth in steals. He was 13-for-20 from the floor this game and hit on 3-of-4 from long range while playing 41 minutes.
He looked drained after the final buzzer but hugged Heat players Jimmy Butler, BamAdabayo and Jae Crowder, then gathered with his teammates for the post-game award ceremonies. The Heat, in turn, was just downright disappointed, and Spoelstra broke down in tears while later being interviewed. He just lost it and it was his of saying he was proud of his team to get that far while 28 other teams were absent.
His confident, talented team knocked out the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Celtics to get to the finals. It had star-studded nights from the 6-7 Butler in his first year with Miami, 6-7 undrafted Duncan Robinson and his outside shooting and savvy play, the big plays tossed in by 6-9 Bam Adabayo, 6-6 rookie Tyler Herro, and can’t forget veteran Jae Crowder on both ends of the court.
But it was a big loss when leading scorer, Doran Dragic, a veteran sharp-shooting crafty guard in his ninth year, went down in the second half of game one with a severe foot injury that ended his season. Sunday night, Crowder did score a dozen points and Butler the same on a rather cold unusual night for him, while also grabbing seven boards and handing out eight assists.
For Los Angeles, Rondo was outstanding, his best game of the playoffs as he tossed in 19 points that included 4-of-4 charity tosses, five assists and four steals, and Caldwell-Pope added 17 points, a burst of hustle and stellar defense on taller Robinson.
LA had the edge in rebounds, 46-41, in steals, 5-4, had less assists, 25-23, and less turnovers, 13-12. From the 3, the Lakers made 11-of-35, the Heat 7-of-27, it was all even in blocks, 14-14, Los Angeles shot 48.3 percent from the floor and 64.3 percent from the foul line. Miami was 44.3 percent from the field and 59.1 percent from the free throw line.
By the way, 1-2-3 mamba is what the team would say before taking the court. It’s all Kobe and he’s also someone never to be forgotten in the world of hoops.