NBA Finals: Five takeaways from Lakers' championship-clinching Game 6 win over Miami Heat
The Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James are back on top of the basketball world.
The Lakers captured their first NBA title in a decade, and James won the fourth in his career, crushing the Miami Heat, 106-93, Sunday in Lake Buena Vista.
The Lakers, who built a 28-point halftime lead, win the series 4-2, closing out the Heat after Miami staved off elimination in Friday’s Game 5.
James is the Finals MVP after recording a triple-double (28 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) in Game 6. He becomes the first player to be named Finals MVP while on three different teams and the third player in league history to win titles with three different teams, joining Robert Horry and John Salley. James won with the Heat in 2012 and 2013, and with the Cavaliers in 2016.
The Lakers' last championship was 2010, and that team was led by Finals MVP Kobe Bryant. The Lakers have honored Bryant since he died in helicopter crash earlier this year, wearing the “Black Mamba” City Edition jerseys five times this postseason. They were 4-1 in those games, their loss coming in Game 5 of the Finals.
The title was the 17th for the Lakers franchise, tying the Celtics for the most in NBA history. Five of the Lakers' championships came when they were in Minneapolis.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra needed time to gather his emotions following the game.
“I’m really bummed we couldn’t find a way to get over the hump and finish the season with a win,” he said. “We have a very proud, competitive, heartfelt group. A group that’s very connected. I don’t think anyone of us was prepared for this. None of us had anticipated this.
“We thought we were going to Game 7, for sure.”
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 25 points, but Miami never was in this game after a dreadful second quarter. Jimmy Butler, Miami's best player in the Finals, had just 12 points and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Veteran Goran Dragic returned for the first time since tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot in Game 1. He played 19 minutes and scored five points.
James got help from Anthony Davis and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, each with 19 points.
The Heat and Lakers complete the longest season in NBA history, one that was shut down for 4 ½ months because of the coronavirus pandemic and returned in a bubble at Walt Disney World. Now, they begin an offseason that will last about 2 ½ months before returning to training camp.
Here are out five takeaways from the final game of the NBA season:
Game over early: The Lakers were determined not to allow the Heat to force a Game 7 from the start. L.A. led by eight points after one quarter and then outscored the Heat 36-16 in the second quarter, using a suffocating, aggressive defense to get easy baskets on the other end. The Lakers’ 28-point lead is the second largest at the half in NBA Finals history.
The Heat were 7 of 23 from the floor in the second quarter, including missing all but one of their seven 3-point attempts. The Lakers pressured the ball, sometimes end-to-end, and swarmed the Heat’s shooters when they touched the ball.
L.A. clearly was paying more attention to Butler, double teaming him whenever possible, meeting him with help at the rim and making it difficult for the Heat’s leading scorer to get off a shot. Butler had just 10 field goal attempts for the game, making five. He had to work very hard for every shot.
Butler has historic Finals: Game 6 was Butler's worst of the Finals. Still, his performance was historic.
Butler, who was acquired by the Heat prior to the start of the 2019-20 season in a sign-and-trade deal with the 76ers, entered Game 6 averaging 29 points, 8.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists while playing nearly 43 minutes a game.
In Game 3, Butler became the third player in Finals history to record a 40-point triple-double and two games later he had a 35-point triple-double, the second player in history to have two triple doubles with at least 30 points.
"Jimmy has superstar competitive spirit to him," Spoelstra said. "He is a winner. He is a leader. He is a motivator and mentor and just a supreme competitor."
First title for Big Two of LeBron-Davis: While acquiring James in the summer of 2018 was the move that turned around the Lakers' fortunes, they would not have been here without adding Davis, who came to L.A. from New Orleans in a three-team, seven-player trade that included multiple first-round picks.
Davis played in 13 postseason games in his first seven seasons with New Orleans, reaching the playoffs twice. He was the Lakers leading scorer, averaging just more than 28 points and second in rebounding with just less than 10 in the playoffs. Davis played a role for James similar to what Dwyane Wade did in Miami and Kyrie Irving did in Cleveland.
Lakers change it up: Lakers coach Frank Vogel sacrificed size in his starting lineup for Game 6, replacing 6-foot-10 Dwight Howard with 6-5 Alex Caruso, swapping out a center for a point guard. And it worked.
The change moved Davis to center and opened up the middle more on offense. Still, the Lakers entered Game 6 averaging about 11 more rebounds per game than Miami and that was the difference in the deciding first half when L.A. held a 29-19 rebounding edge, led by James’ nine.
The Lakers finished the game with a 46-41 edge on the glass.
Heat on the upswing: The Heat have a plan that started with acquiring Butler in the summer of 2019, and even after making it to the Finals, they are expected to stick with that plan.
That means a quiet offseason in which the focus will be on their free agents, primarily Dragic, Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. Miami has been looking at the summer of 2021, and a stellar free agent crop that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard. It will not blow up that plan by handing out a long-term contract before the start of next season.
The toughest decision will involve Dragic. The point guard has turned into one of the more popular players in team history, and he’s become comfortable with the organization and the city. Dragic could return on a one-year deal this year before the Heat take care of him next year after pursuing a big-name free agent.