LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Things were getting out of hand for the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday evening. A tweak to the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting lineup — inserting swingman Alex Caruso in place of center Dwight Howard — transformed the unit into the second coming of the Showtime Lakers.
Facing a 30-point deficit late in the second quarter, Heat rookie guard Kendrick Nunn used a screen to elude Caruso, but Anthony Davis was waiting for him in the key. Nunn dribbled around the forward and released a running hook going to his left, and Davis swatted the ball to himself before passing up-court to initiate the break.
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When Davis swung the ball, he promptly turned to the Heat’s family and friends section sitting courtside and yelled, “That sh-- is dead!”
That was the moment the Heat’s season ended, and the Lakers proceeded to win 106-93, defeating Miami in six games to win the franchise’s first title in 10 years.
It was a nuclear blitz put forth, led by LeBron James, who won his fourth Finals MVP award and made NBA history by becoming the first player to earn the honor with three different teams.
“This is a historic franchise and to be a part of this is something that I'll be able to talk about and my grandkids and kids will be able to talk about. Their paw-paw played for the Los Angeles Lakers,” James said during his news conference after scoring 28 points, pulling down 14 rebounds and distributing 10 assists. “It's like playing for the Yankees and winning, or playing for the Cowboys and winning a Super Bowl, or the Patriots. It's like playing for the Red Sox. So to be able to win with a historical franchise is something that, no matter if your mind wavers away, you can always remember what you're doing it for.”
Davis wanted this moment, securing his first NBA title.
“It just makes it all worth it,” he said after recording 19 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. “It was tough times [in New Orleans], but like I said, I’m a champion. When I got traded, that's all I wanted was to be a champion, to be able to compete, be able to win. I was able to do that my first year with the Lakers.”
The Lakers had been annoyed with what they felt were extra steps being afforded to Heat rookie sharpshooter Duncan Robinson when he received the ball coming off curl screens, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
And with Robinson occasionally talking trash, that only increased the Lakers’ annoyance after he torched them for 26 points while draining seven triples in Game 5.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came into Game 6 focused on not losing sight of Robinson, a rookie who is already one of the best players in the league at moving without the ball.
Of course, the game got chippy.
“You ain’t nothing,” Caldwell-Pope shouted at Robinson with 2:50 left in the half while Miami’s Bam Adebayo was at the free-throw line. Referee James Capers warned Caldwell-Pope to cool it down and he replied, “He’s the one talking sh--. He ain’t getting nothing tonight.”
Robinson finished with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
In the last few minutes of the game, James and Davis embraced near the bench. It appeared Davis was trying to gather his thoughts and take in the moment.
James, sources told Yahoo Sports, was telling his co-star that this is what they’re consistently capable of and he reassured Davis that he always believed in him.
Davis chose to make some adjustments before arriving in Los Angeles. In New Orleans, he was known for being sidelined with nagging injuries. But when competing for a title, steady health is imperative.
James introduced Davis to his nutrition plan and recommended he receive preventative maintenance treatment on a regular basis, sources said.
And to eliminate excessive wear and tear, Davis purposely sought to reduce the number of times he fell to the floor when attacking the basket, sources said.
With James never having missed a postseason game in his career, Davis wanted to be just as dependable and he challenged his body beyond what he’s ever done in the past.
The two stars were the last players to join their teammates in the locker room. But before James entered, he demanded goggles.
“I need some goggles,” he bellowed. “No, sir. Y’all not going to spray me and burn my motherf---ing eyes.”
And when he emerged, sheer pandemonium broke loose. You heard Champagne being sprayed, objects being tossed around. This went on for a while. Several minutes later, James exited the locker room with a bottle of Champagne to see which media members were waiting around the corner.
The media crowd scattered to prevent from getting doused. James went back inside, but he had a trick up his sleeve.
As I scrolled through Twitter with my head down, I was caught completely off-guard. James sprinted out of the locker room and zeroed in. When I looked up, Champagne was already in the air, headed straight for my suit. I was drenched and instantly tried to retreat, but was slipping and sliding because of the combination of my dress shoes and Champagne on the floor.
“Yeah, motherf---er! You thought you were safe?” James yelled. “You thought you were going to survive without a shower? Yeah, Chris!”
Lakers forward Markieff Morris was walking around the corridors of the arena stopping media members and staff workers to ask a question.
“Hey, y’all want to know what a champ looks like? You’re looking at one,” he said to a group of media members who were waiting for James to arrive for his postgame conference.
Morris then walked a few feet away and stopped a staff worker who was heading to help clean up the facility.
“Hey man, you’re looking at a champ,” he told him. “Just thought you should know.”
The Lakers plan to have a parade in Los Angeles, but they’ll have to work with government and city officials on the feasibility and date because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They’re now tied with the Boston Celtics for the most NBA championships with 17. Headed for Year 18, James remains on a mission.
“We’ve got more work to do,” sources said James told Davis during their celebration in the locker room.
There always is for champions.
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