LeBron James Championship Formula: Lakers’ suffocating defense and a blast from his Heat past

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When LeBron James played for the Miami Heat, they called them skirmishes. A few stops, a few transitioning dunks, and a game changes. It happens quickly and without warning, like an earthquake. James’ team is energetic, the opponent demoralized.

To beat a team led by James usually takes discipline. Mistakes on the offensive side turn into easy baskets on the other end, slumped shoulders and pointed fingers. In Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals, the Heat were on the wrong side of the skirmish.

The Los Angeles Lakers lead was just four points with a minute and a half to go in the first quarter. Less than a minute after the start of the second, it was 11 a.m. and Miami was starting to wear down. The skirmish, however, began in earnest when Anthony Davis rejected a Kendrick Nunn layup four and a half minutes before halftime. The blockade led to an absurd and-1 from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the start of an 18-2 run that gave the Lakers a 30-point lead.

All season, Los Angeles has feasted on turnovers from live bullets. To win the championship on Sunday, he put Alex Caruso in the starting lineup, took Dwight Howard out of the rotation and increased his defensive pressure. Miami’s offense, so beautiful at its best, suddenly appeared stagnant, the result of the Lakers’ disruptive defense as much as its own tired legs. The Heat returned the ball over more than a fifth of their possessions in the first half, and whenever they missed the edge, Los Angeles would run down the field to punish them.

Caruso called it “the epitome of Lakers basketball”. Kyle Kuzma described him as “crazy”, “amazing” and “probably the most we have ever been locked up during the season”.

“We were everywhere,” Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel said. “We executed our covers perfectly. And we did it with energy, passion and active hands, and we bounced the basketball back. And that controlled the whole game because, with our ability at the break, we get clear saves from other teams. had no chance with us going out for the break. ”

Over a year ago, Vogel told the Lakers he wanted them to be the most physical team in the NBA. They’ve defined themselves with their defense, a stark contrast to any of James’ teams since leaving Miami in 2014 – throughout the regular season they were communicative, connected and determined to get saves, and teams that failed to sprint against them got burned. They finished third in defensive standings and third in opponent turnover rate and, according to Cleaning The Glass, first in transition attack.

Some stupid people thought Los Angeles wouldn’t even qualify for the final. His Achilles heel was meant to be a half-court offense, as the Lakers finished 19th in that category in the regular season. It wasn’t just that their shooting was suspect and their perimeter play was almost entirely up to James and Rajon Rondo, it was that their offense didn’t sing like the more aesthetic ones do. Los Angeles didn’t move seamlessly from one action to another like their opponent in the Finals. It didn’t cause chaos and confusion with off-ball movements. The Lakers could craft advantages and open shots against fixed defenses, but it didn’t look easy.

Los Angeles’ solution to this was simple: make life completely miserable for the opposing attack and run like hell.

Unlike their playoff opponents, the Lakers didn’t have a guard capable of doing regular 35-foot pull-ups or three pullbacks, or breaking up center-point teams. Their half-court offense improved in the playoffs, but even in the final it was sometimes stilted. It wasn’t exactly unpredictable and it didn’t reflect a larger trend in the direction of the NBA.

The Los Angeles defense, however, does. He wouldn’t have made it past the second round if he hadn’t put his traditional greats on the bench and played Davis exclusively in the center, where he’s such a disruptive force as there is in the league, the same move that Vogel did in Game 6 of the Final. The Lakers didn’t need to look like heat because they could keep the heat from looking like heat. Throughout the season, they had shrunk the ground, closed the passing lanes and made the stars uncomfortable. They knew exactly who they were.

“You can have a talented team, even a talented defensive team, but if everyone isn’t working together and not everyone is convinced and sees the point in being able to suffocate an opponent and take away their strength. , you don’t go. to reach that level, ”Vogel said. “But our guys saw the value early on. They bought. ”

Sunday’s second quarter skirmish was part of a 41-15 run that started at the end of the first quarter. If the attack sounded familiar, it’s because the Lakers did something similar in Game 1. Miami started the streak on pace and took a quick lead, but everything changed around six minutes. Davis moved to center and the Lakers finished the first quarter. on a 19-3 run that turned into a ridiculous 75-30 sprint.

Afterwards, James said they did it by playing more physically and with more attention to detail.

“We started to play according to our abilities,” he said. “We started to fly. We started to make defensive saves. ”

History of the season.

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