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Lakers' near-perfect defence pushes Los Angeles to 17th NBA title


And so ends the Raptors’ 16-month reign as NBA champs.

Not with the edge-of-your-seat nailbiter we were all hoping for, but with an old-fashioned beatdown of an understandably exhausted Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat and a savvy lineup change orchestrated by the Los Angeles Lakers, not to mention a generous dose of LeBron James.

The 106-93 win on Sunday night — which gave the Lakers the best-of-seven Finals in six games — did not do justice to just how much Los Angeles dominated the night, from the end of the first quarter until the final horn.

It was the 17th NBA title for the storied Lakers franchise, which ties it with the Boston Celtics for the most in league history.

The Lakers basically settled the matter in the second quarter when they outscored Miami 36-16 to take a 28-point lead into halftime.

Led by James, who had his 28th career triple-double in NBA playoff history and now trails just Magic Johnson for the career lead by two, and with their defence on point almost all night, the Lakers were finally able to unleash their full arsenal on the Heat.

James’ accomplishment was recognized with the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award, the fourth time in his career he has won that and the first NBA player to ever do it with three different teams. His head coach, Frank Vogel, took the opportunity post-game to remind everyone just how good James is at this game.

“I have always believed in LeBron James,” Vogel said. “He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen, and if you think you know, you don’t know, OK, until you’re around him every day, you’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group. You think you know, but you don’t know.

“It’s just been a remarkable experience coaching him and seeing him take this group that was not in the playoffs last year. The roster was put together, you know, overnight, and just taking a group and leading us to the promised land, so they say.

“He was terrific the entire season leading us, and I can’t say enough about him,” Vogel said.

Butler, as exceptional as he had been through these playoffs and particularly this series, finally hit the wall that was inevitable after carrying the load he has been carrying just to get this series as far as it went.

In the end, Butler was plenty good enough to delay the Lakers celebration, but he couldn’t deny it.

Up against a team that boasts James and Anthony Davis, arguably two of the five best players in the NBA, the Heat needed every bit of its lineup at peak efficiency to win the series, and with both Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic nowhere near that thanks to injuries, the Lakers were just too much to overcome.

The Heat did get Dragic back in the lineup for Game 6, but he was clearly out of rhythm and unable to bring any spark to the lineup.

Butler, who played all but 12 minutes of the final four games (think about that — 180 of a possible 192 minutes) finally saw that workload take its toll.

Despite playing another 45 minutes in Game 6, Butler managed just 12 points, although his assists (8) and rebounding (7) numbers were at least comparable to his previous few games when he dominated the boxscore.

Afterwards, he pledged to do more next season.

“This is what my team needed me to do, the organization asked of me,” Butler said of the tremendous workload he shouldered. “I told them that I would win them one and I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain, so that means I’ve got to do it next year. I told Coach Pat (Riley), I told Coach Spo (Erik Spoelstra) I’m here to win one.

“I didn’t do my job, so moving forward, I’ve got to hold up my end of the bargain.”

His own fatigue, combined with a Lakers starting lineup change that saw Dwight Howard head to the bench and Alex Caruso start, were the two biggest factors in the Lakers being able to hold him in check.

With Howard out and Caruso in, the Lakers lost some rim protection and rebounding but overall were a much better defensive team, with more speed and better ability to contain Butler before he could even get into attack mode.

Whether it was Rajon Rondo or one of the other guards, Butler would get picked up defensively early and then, if he did manage to get by that first line of defence, had Davis waiting for him at the rim.

Rondo, who previously won a championship 12 years ago with the Celtics, had a huge impact on the closeout game against the Heat with 19 points off the bench.

Still the standard in this close-out game by which everyone else would be measured, James had plenty of assistance in putting this one away.

Whether it was Rondo or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or even smaller contributions from Caruso, the Lakers offence just seemed to flow all night, much of it in transition following stops at the other end.

Caruso had only four points on the night, but his presence was notable. With him on the floor, the Lakers were a plus-29 as he made Vogel look like a coaching genius with that pre-game lineup change.

James would lead all scorers with 28 to close out his fourth NBA championship, his first with the Lakers after two in Miami and one in Cleveland.

And Danny Green, who helped the Raptors to their title last year, scored 11 points for his second NBA championship in a row and third overall.

mganter@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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