As Anthony Davis threw down a fierce dunk to push the Los Angeles Lakers’ second-quarter lead to 20 points, LeBron James stood behind him and rotated his index fingers in a circle.
Faster. More. The Miami Heat is reeling. Don’t let up.
James’s message was received by all parties. The Lakers proceeded to rip off 10 straight points, turning active defense that left the Miami Heat bottled up into layups and three-pointers with James leading the break. That second-quarter push turned what had been a tense NBA Finals into a blowout coronation.
Los Angeles defeated Miami, 106-93, in Game 6 on Sunday, outlasting the plucky underdogs to claim the 17th championship in franchise history. James secured the fourth title of his illustrious career, leading a third team to the crown after previously winning with the Heat in 2012 and 2013 and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The 35-year-old forward, who finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, became just the second player in NBA history to win four Finals MVP awards, joining Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan, who won six.
The victory set off raucous celebrations at the AdventHealth Arena in the bubble at Disney World, where players have lived for more than three months as the NBA completed its regular season and held its postseason in a restricted environment amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Our ballclub got here July 9th,” James said. “It’s October 11th now. This was very challenging and difficult. It played with your mind. It played with your body. You’re away from some of the things that you’re so accustomed to to make you be the professional that you are. I heard some rumblings from people that are not in the bubble, ‘Oh, you don’t have to travel.’ Whatever. People just doubting what goes on in here. This [title] right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve had.”
James sprayed reporters with champagne, chomped on a cigar as he called his children and mother, Gloria, on FaceTime and went through a lengthy procession of post-game interviews.
“There’s nothing that can stop me,” James told his mother while lying on his back in the arena concourse, drenched in champagne. “This s— right here is nothing compared to the s— you had to go through. God is good. I hope I continue to make you proud, mom.”
Some stories are more complicated than others, and Game 6’s was simple: The Heat simply ran out of gas after a valiant performance in Game 5. Miami shot just 13 for 38 (34.2 percent) in the first half as Los Angeles’s defense flew around the court and prevented clean looks from beyond the arc. The Lakers held an insurmountable 64-36 lead entering the break, and their small fan section, composed of wives, girlfriends and children, spent most of the second half cheering expectantly.
The Lakers’ closeout win, which sealed a 16-5 run through the playoffs, was aided by a starting lineup change. Coach Frank Vogel electing to start guard Alex Caruso in place of center Dwight Howard, who scored just two points in 15 minutes in Game 5. Caruso started just two games all season, but his insertion provided cleaner matchups with the Heat’s starting lineup, which features four perimeter players and center Bam Adebayo. Although the Lakers used this lineup for just 12 total minutes in the playoffs entering Sunday, the versatile and hard-nosed group overwhelmed the Heat with its collective speed and discipline.
Butler, so sensational in Games 3 and 5, couldn’t muster the same furious attacks that had keyed Miami’s wins and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. After hitting all 12 of his free throws in Game 5, he missed two in the first half — a sure sign of his fatigue. Adebayo, a major source of offense in the Eastern Conference finals, never got on track after suffering a neck injury in Game 1. Duncan Robinson, who hit seven three-pointers in Game 5, was held to six points in the first half as the Lakers tightened up their perimeter defense.
The Heat activated Goran Dragic for the first time since he left Game 1 with a plantar tear. The 34-year-old point guard had tested his foot earlier in the series but hadn’t been cleared medically until Sunday. While his return seemed bound to provide a morale boost, he scored just two points in six minutes off the bench in the first half.
Instead, the contest’s second-unit difference-maker was Rajon Rondo, who scored 13 points in the first half. The Heat seemed willing to turn the pass-first Rondo into a scorer, and he responded with sharp drives to the hoop and a confident three-pointer when left open.
As the Lakers clicked on all cylinders, their confidence grew. The Heat, limited by injuries and exhausted after playing from behind all series, had nowhere left to turn
The second-half action was academic. Davis pounded away inside, finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds to secure his first ring.
“With about 25 seconds left, that feeling just turned into reality,” Davis said. “I was 25 seconds from becoming a champion. T journey that I’ve been on, my team has been on, the organization has been on, it all came just full circle with this championship. I just got real emotional. It’s just part of your legacy to say you’re a champion. Not everybody can say that. It just puts a bigger target on your back, honestly. Teams are going to come after you next year, especially when you’re one of the top players. Guys want to take out the champion.”
The Lakers did not let the Heat get within double digits in the second half, and the confetti machines, which were left unused Friday after the Heat eked out a narrow win, sprayed purple and yellow all over the court.