Unprecedented NBA season ends with James and Lakers champions again

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions again after smothering the Miami Heat in a 106-93 victory in game six of the NBA Finals in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. 

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions again after smothering the Miami Heat in a 106-93 victory in game six of the NBA Finals in Orlando, Florida on Sunday.

It is the fourth championship with a third team for James, who won with Miami in 2012 and 2013 and with Cleveland in 2016.

He came to Los Angeles two years ago to restore the proud franchise to prominence and teamed with fellow superstar Anthony Davis to give the Lakers their 17th title – matching the Celtics for the most in NBA history – and their first since 2010.

“It means a lot to represent this franchise,” James said. “I told [Lakers co-owner and governor] Jeanie [Buss] when I came here that I was gonna put this franchise back in a position where it belongs. For me to be a part of such a historical franchise, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

The Lakers conquered the title nearly one year after the start of the season, during which time they endured the tragic death of superstar Kobe Bryant and the coronavirus pandemic that forced the league to finish its season inside the “bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex with rigid protocols and no fans, an unprecedented test of discipline and focus.

“To Laker nation, we have been through a heartbreaking tragedy with the loss of Kobe Bryant and [his daughter] Gianna,” Buss said. “Let this trophy serves as a reminder of when we come together, incredible things can happen.”

“We have a PhD in adversity, I can tell you that much,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who won his first title. “I’m so damn proud of this team.”

Playing his record 260th playoff game, the 35-year-old James had his 11th Finals triple-double with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists as he won his fourth Bill Russell Trophy as Finals Most Valuable Player, becoming the first to win it with three different teams.

He averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the series and reaffirmed his status as the best player in the world.

“I’m gonna let you guys talk about [my legacy],” James said. “One thing I can do is commit to the game. I’ve never missed a playoff game in my career, and the best thing you can do for your teammates is be available.”

“He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen,” Vogel said. “If you think you know, you don’t know, until you see it every day.”

A play away from wrapping up the series in game five, the Lakers played with force and intent from the start on Sunday, overwhelming the undersized Heat.

James set the tone on offence, bulling his way inside for easy buckets. The 2.08-metre Davis backstopped the defence, blocking and altering shots with his length and triggering fast breaks.

With timely scoring bursts from Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers raced to a commanding 64-36 halftime lead, the second-largest in Finals history.

The onslaught finally dispatched the Heat, whose competitive fire – led by tireless All-Star Jimmy Butler – was extinguished.

Playing in the Finals for the first time since 2014, Miami was dealt a discouraging finish to a spectacular postseason run.

“None of us anticipated this [blowout],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The guys are pretty down as you can imagine.”

“To hear that horn go off and we’re NBA champions, it’s a thrill feeling,” said Davis, who had 19 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks.

In his first NBA Finals, he averaged 25.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks and gave the Lakers the second star the Heat did not have.

Butler, who had monstrous triple-doubles in Miami’s wins in games three and five, totalled 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists on Sunday. Also playing his first Finals, he averaged 26.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists and was the undisputed leader of a young team with a bright future.

“I think I grew in every aspect of the game, so I can smile about that,” Butler said. “The one thing I learned more than anything is how fun it is to play with these guys. It really was fun watching all my young fellows grow.”

The Lakers went smaller by starting guard Alex Caruso for ineffective centre Dwight Howard, which allowed Davis to patrol the paint while his teammates tracked the Heat’s shooters.

They contained Butler, got out in transition and built a 28-20 lead after one period as James and Davis combined for 17 points.

Rondo, who had 19 points off the bench, sparked Los Angeles with nine points in a 16-5 spurt early in the second quarter, opening a 44-27 bulge and starting the avalanche.

In the final four and a half minutes of the half, Caldwell-Pope – who finished with 17 points – had a three-point play, a layup and consecutive three-pointers to push the margin to 64-34 and demoralize Miami.

“We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We imposed our will. We were the aggressor.”

In the first half, the Heat shot just 34 per cent (13-of-38), committed nine turnovers, were outscored 14-0 on the fast break and even missed seven free throws.

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