The Los Angeles Lakers are back where they belong – on top of the world after winning the 2020 NBA Championship.
The now 17-time champs were one of the favorites to win it all coming into the 2019-2020 season with their offseason acquisition of big man Anthony Davis. Coming into the postseason, all eyes were on them to make a deep playoff run as they were the number 1 seeded team in the Western Conference.
Even with the Lakers eventually winning it all, they did not have the easiest of paths en route to the title, as they had to go through several strong contenders. Let’s take a look back at how the Lakers brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
First Round: Portland Trail Blazers
Coming into the playoffs, the Portland Trailblazers were one of the hottest teams in the bubble. Finishing with a 6-2 seeding games record, and beating the 9th seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first-ever play-in tournament, they were able to clinch their match-up with the Lakers in the first round. On the other hand, the Lakers weren’t looking their best in the bubble after a lackluster 3-5 record in the seeding games. And with back-up point guard Rajon Rondo out with a thumb fracture, it wasn’t looking good for the team from Southern California.
The Blazers, who were now with their big man Jusuf Nurkic who returned from an injury, shocked the Lakers and the world with a convincing game 1 win. Damian Lillard was exceptional as expected, hitting logo threes and finishing with 34 points. Fans were quick to jump to conclusions saying that the Blazers could possibly upset the heavily favored Laker team.
However, after game 1, the Lakers made their necessary adjustments and blew out the Blazers in game 2 winning by 23 points. To add insult to injury, Damian Lillard suffered a dislocated left index finger in the 3rd quarter and had to leave the game. He was able to play the following games, but you could see how the injury was affecting his effectiveness on the offensive end of the floor.
The Lakers continued their dominance in the next couple of games to go up 3 games to 1. Damian Lillard, who was already banged up with the finger injury, suffered an even worse injury, spraining his right knee in the middle of game 4. He was not able to return to the game, and he was not able to play again the rest of the series.
That was pretty much the end for the Blazers as they were not able to match up with the firepower of the Lakers. The Purple & Gold closed out the series in 5 games to move on to a second-round matchup with the Houston Rockets.
Second Round: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets, playing with their unorthodox style of small ball, were able to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in 7 games to face the Lakers in round two. With their unique playing style, and their two MVP guards leading the way, the Rockets were also able to start the series off strong by blowing out the Lakers in game 1 for a 15 point victory.
In the same way, they bounced back in round 1 after their loss, the Lakers made the necessary adjustments after losing to the Rockets. Facing a team whose tallest player is 6”7’, the Lakers had to adjust their lineups, opting to go with small ball big men like Markieff Morris and Kyle Kuzma more often, rather than their traditional centers like Javale Mcgee and Dwight Howard. Mcgee was even scratched from the starting line up from game 4 onwards, with Morris starting for more shooting on offense, and a lot more agility on defense. Morris was exceptional with the minutes given to him averaging almost 9 points a game on 50% shooting from 3-point range.
Aside from Markieff playing a huge role, the Lakers relied heavily on the performance of their backup point guard Rajon Rondo who was able to return from his injured finger. Rondo showed everyone how his veteran presence and defensive ability can play a crucial role for the Lakers. He averaged an efficient 10.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 2.4 steal through the series. This helped the Lakers big time as they were able to cruise to four straight wins to close out the series again in 5 games moving onto the Western Conference Finals.
Western Conference Finals: Denver Nuggets
Everyone was expecting an LA vs LA Western Conference Finals this year with both the Lakers and the Clippers clinching the top 2 seeds in the West. The basketball world was shocked that this did not happen with the Denver Nuggets coming back from their second 3-1 deficit in the playoffs to beat the Los Angeles Clippers and advance to the Western Conference Finals to face the other Los Angeles team. In Game 1 the Lakers seemed to learn their lesson from the first two rounds, and they came out strong to get the win and lead the series 1-0. Anthony Davis came out with a statement game finishing with 37 and 10.
Game 2 would be the game to remember for Laker fans. With a couple of minutes left, the Lakers looked like they were on their way to another victory. But Nikola Jokic put on a 9-0 run on his own to put Denver on top with 31 seconds left. With Denver up by 1 with around 20 seconds remaining, Alex Caruso missed, then Danny Green got blocked in the left corner, forcing the Lakers to inbound the ball at the baseline with a couple of seconds on the clock. Rajon Rondo was subbed in the game to make the inbound pass, and he gave a beautiful pass to Anthony Davis who hit a Kobe-Esque buzzer-beating three to give the Lakers the win.
The Nuggets bounced back in game 3 and got the W, despite a blistering 4th quarter run by the Lakers. In games 4 and 5 however, Lebron James and the Lakers were too much for the Denver Nuggets closing out the series in 5 games yet again. This meant the Lakers were able to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since they won it all back in 2010.
NBA Finals: Miami Heat
Just like the Western Conference Finals, this was not the matchup fans were expecting. Being the 5th seeded team in the East, the Miami Heat came up with a couple of major upsets by beating the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks, and the number three seeded Boston Celtics, to make it all the way to the NBA Finals. Even if they were underdogs, the Miami Heat battled every single game, just like they did throughout the entire season.
The main storyline in game 1 would be the injuries to two stars of the Miami Heat, specifically Goran Dragic who had to leave the game with a torn plantar fascia in his foot, and Bam Adebayo who exited after re-aggravating his shoulder and neck injury. Due to these two injuries, the Heat could not keep up with the Lakers and ultimately lost game 1. These injuries would continue to haunt them in the following games as both Bam and Goran would miss the following games. In Game 2, the Lakers capitalized on their shorthanded opponents and gained the 2-0 lead in the series.
Game 3 would be a completely different story. Both Adebayo and Dragic were still not available for Miami, but Jimmy Butler had the game of his life. He finished with a monster triple-double of 40 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, plus 2 steals, and 2 blocks to go along with it. He led Miami in almost every category and his energy definitely fuelled his team as they were able to win a game to prevent the sweep.
For game 4, Bam returned to the lineup, and the more complete Heat battled throughout the whole game. However, the Lakers were able to come up with the down to the wire win since Lebron James had a sense of urgency saying it was a must-win game for the Lakers if they wanted to win it all. He did not want any momentum to go to the Heat and he delivered.
Game 5 was a possible closeout game for the Lakers, and they wanted to finish it in style by bringing out the ‘Black Mamba’ themed jerseys, which has been a good luck charm for them as they were 4-0 while wearing those jerseys going into game 5. Unfortunately, luck seemed to run out as Jimmy Butler had another triple-double with 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, and 5 steals. Duncan Robinson also had the game of his life scoring 26 points via 7 out of 13 from 3-point range. Lebron scored 40 points, but it was not enough to seal the deal, thus there would be a game 6. Aside from this, Anthony Davis hurt his heel, and he was clearly hobbling to finish the game, causing Lakers Nation to worry about his health moving forward.
By game 6, AD seemed perfectly fine, the Lakers were firing on all cylinders. The Heat also looked quite fatigued, and by the end of the second quarter, the Lakers were already up by 28 points. This hole was too big for the Heat to dig out of, and the Lakers never looked back as they cruised in the second half to a final score of 106-93, finishing the series, and clinching their 17th NBA title in franchise history.
Lebron James won his fourth ring, and his fourth finals MVP award as well finishing with averages of 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists.
This season has been a roller coaster ride from start to finish, especially with losing Kobe Bryant, being hit by the pandemic, and having the bubble to finish off the season.
After everything that has happened, and over a calendar year since the 2019-2020 season actually began, the extremely tough season ends on a high note as the Los Angeles Lakers are back as the NBA Champions.
Featured Image: Douglas P. DeFelice/nba.com