October 11, 2020 | 10:02pm | Updated October 11, 2020 | 11:33pm
The coronation started early for King James and his Lakers.
After Friday’s disappointing defeat, this time they made sure the courtside confetti machines got used. The Lakers rolled to a 106-93 rout of the Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, capping the longest, strangest season in league history with their record 17th championship.
James’ triple-double brilliance (a game-high 28 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) and their defensive dominance made this latest title look like a fait accompli. But their 36-point second-half cushion belied just how far the Lakers have come in short order — or make that, how far James has dragged them.
Two years ago, this wasn’t inevitable or inexorable; it was inconceivable.
This was the Lakers’ first postseason berth in six years, and first championship in a decade. By their own lofty standards, it had been a drought.
When James decided to take his talents to Los Angeles, he already had won two rings in Miami and another in Cleveland, while the Lakers’ glory years were but a distant memory. They had the worst record in the NBA from 2013 until James’ arrival.
Yet after a tough debut last year, when the Lakers missed the playoffs, James successfully recruited (and general manager Rob Pelinka successfully acquired) superstar power forward Anthony Davis. That gave the Lakers another iconic duo to follow in the footsteps of Wilt and West, Magic and Kareem, Shaq and Kobe. It also put them back where they feel they belong: Atop the NBA. King (James) of the Hill.
Davis, who aggravated a heel injury in Friday’s Game 5 loss, had 19 points, 15 boards and two blocks, playing center in place of Dwight Howard and opening up the floor. The Lakers got great contributions off the bench from veteran point guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17 points) and Rajon Rondo (19 points on 8-for-11 shooting).
But head coach Frank Vogel told them during a huddle “We’re in the midst of a defensive masterpiece,” and he wasn’t wrong.
Los Angeles smothered Miami, limiting the Heat to 44.3 percent shooting (34.2 percent in the first half) and 10-for-28 from behind the 3-point arc. The Lakers held Jimmy Butler — who had been superhuman in the Finals previously, averaging 29 points, 10.2 assists and 8.6 rebounds — largely in check.
James took up the challenge of guarding Butler, and helped hold him to just 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Without Butler’s scoring, Miami had few answers.
Bam Adebayo had 25 points and 10 rebounds, but even a cameo return by injured guard Goran Dragic, who made his first appearance since Game 1, couldn’t help the Heat.
The Lakers ended the first quarter with an eight-point edge, and blew it open with a dominant 36-16 second. They smothered the Heat into just 30.4 percent shooting on one end, and got a combined 20 points from Caldwell-Pope and Rondo on the other as they turned the game into a rout.
The Lakers were cruising along, leading 46-32 with five minutes to go in the half before they truly blew the game wide open. They forced six misses in Miami’s next seven shots, with a pair of turnovers that got them out in transition.
James found Caldwell-Pope for a corner 3-pointer that capped an 18-2 run, including the last 13 straight. It spotted the Lakers to a 64-34 lead with 49.6 seconds left in the half. They sauntered into the break with a 28-point edge, the second-largest in Finals history — and the second half was a march towards another title.