The ultimate anguish. The ultimate joy. This season, for LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, had it all. And it ended in the only fashion that they deemed would be acceptable, with the team back atop the basketball world.
For the first time since Kobe Bryant’s fifth and final title a decade ago, the Lakers are NBA champions. James had 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Lakers beat the Miami Heat 106-93 on Sunday night to win the NBA finals in six games. James was also named Most Valuable Player of the NBA finals for a fourth time after averaging 29.8 points (on 59% shooting), 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists across the series.
Anthony Davis had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who dealt with the enormous anguish that followed the death of team legend Bryant in January and all the challenges that came with leaving home for three months to play at Walt Disney World in a bubble designed to keep the teams’ players and staff safe from the coronavirus.
It would be, James predicted, the toughest title to ever win.
NBA finals 2020
They made the clincher look easy. James won his fourth title, doing it with a third different franchise and against the Heat franchise that showed him how to become a champion.
Bam Adebayo had 25 points and 10 rebounds for Miami, who got 12 points from Jimmy Butler the player who, in his first Heat season, got the team back to title contention. Rajon Rondo scored 19 points for the Lakers.
With that, the league’s bubble chapter, put together after a four-and-a-half month suspension of play that because of the coronavirus pandemic, is over. So, too, is a season that saw the league and China get into political sparring, the death on 1 January of commissioner emeritus David Stern the man who did so much to make the league what it is, and then the shock later than month that came with the news that Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other died in a helicopter crash.
The Lakers said they were playing the rest of the season in his memory. They delivered what Bryant did five times for LA – a ring – and the clincher was emphatic.
Game 6 was over by halftime, the Lakers taking a 64-36 lead into the break. The Heat never led and couldn’t shoot from anywhere: 35% from two-point range in the half, 33% from three-point range and even an uncharacteristic 42% from the line. The Lakers were getting everything they wanted and then some, outscoring Miami 36-16 in the second quarter and doing all that with James making just one shot in the period.
Rajon Rondo, now a two-time champion and the first to win rings as a player in both Boston and Los Angeles, the franchises now tied with 17 titles apiece, was six for six in the half. The Lakers’ lead was 46-32 with five minutes left in the half, and they outscored Miami 18-4 from there until intermission.
The 28-point halftime lead was the second-biggest in NBA finals history, topped only by the Celtics leading the Lakers 79-49 in 1985.
True to form, the Heat, a team that embraced the challenge of the bubble like no other didn’t stop playing, not even when the deficit got to 36 in the third quarter.
A 23-8 run by Miami got the Heat to 90-69 with 8:37 left. But the outcome was never in doubt, and before long confetti was blasted into the air as the Lakers’ celebration formally and officially began.