Lakers' signature defense should mute calls for an asterisk around 2020 NBA championship
Kendrick Nunn, the guardian of the Miami Heat, must have thought that every time he snaked around the free throw line, ghosts were there because he winced when the flashes on LeBron James' outstretched arms.
Apparently he was unfamiliar with the 6-foot-10 pterodactyl named Anthony Davis, who waited with long arms to knock away his layup and trigger a devastating quick pause.
It was the same ghosts Tyler Herro saw when he missed potential layups for sales or pitched a swimmer who had lots of air and not enough ball.
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Davis was the same spirit every time, all night, aided by the arms and quick legs that made life impossible for most of the NBA all season, showing off the championship defensive habits that were being built before the pandemic, which bloomed sporadically in Orlando.
But that D was devastating when he was appointed coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Frank Vogel encouraged his team to take a break in the second quarter to give up open 3-point shots and no layups or fouls.
Check, check and check.
Please ring the bell.
It was a 30-point whip for most of the night that weighed on the respectable bottom line of 106-93. No pandemic, catastrophe or bubble could save the Lakers' defenses from endless stamina shown in Game 6 on Sunday night.
The Lakers are not a historic team. But defensively they are as high as anyone else in Laker history and the main reason, aside from the obvious top-heavy talent, was that they won their first title in 10 years - and their ninth since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in the Year 1984.
Although the league has evolved since then, and the game certainly has, one thing that has always traveled through time zones and street arenas and even neutral places was defense. It would have been there during the Clippers corridor series or in Houston or in Milwaukee or even in South Beach in June if it had been under normal circumstances.
This made the Golden State Warriors a dynasty, although the focus was on lightning.
It was the calling card of the San Antonio Spurs for two decades, allowing them to maneuver and win five titles.
Miami had no answers on the Los Angeles Lakers defense in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. (Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)
So it was for Michael Jordan's cops, Isiah Thomas' butt, and Shaq and Kobes Lakers.
Your signature defense is one reason the calls should be muted for an asterisk. It's a trademark for so many championship teams and an important reason why the so-called competitors (Clippers, Rockets, Bucks) didn't make it this far.
Make no mistake, the heat has been gassed. Erik Spoelstra asks his team for "everything" in every game, and under the circumstances everything was required: an inferior and limping Bam Adebayo, a Goran Dragic whose presence compared to the leading scorer he led to the final on best used as inspiration and newbies who finally saw the part.
Just one more game for the ages by Jimmy Butler even just barely held it, but it would hardly have made the score academic. Depending on the impossible from a man who has played 47 and 43 minutes in the last two games, this is a surefire way to get Sunday night's result.
It wasn't impossible to expect a defensive masterpiece from Davis who possesses the hands, consciousness, and quickness to rule the league on one end of the floor for years to come. There have been some who made fun of the comparisons that Davis is the perfect genetic hybrid of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, but he finally seems ready to step into those shoes beyond the stats.
When imprisoned, he does something that none of James' star teammates could ever do: get LeBron to engage and play high-level defense. You could be the case that at this end James has gotten out of hand since his senior year in Miami's switch-heavy, aggressive defense system and only picked his spots to really try.
The biggest argument against James, who is on top of the mountain and others who stand in for a moment (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard) was his lack of commitment to that goal.
The Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler is defended by Alex Caruso and LeBron James of the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Final. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)
As much as Davis' presence made James a four-time champion, it has brought James back to the top of his peers as best player of the game, four-time final MVP, and possibly best manager in the NBA.
"We just want our respect ... I want my bloody respect too," said James after receiving his fourth Bill Russell trophy.
Davis' Excellency has made the most of what James has to give for that purpose, a kind of peer responsibility considering that James is not outdone by anything in any substance on his own team.
James got much more involved and engaging in this area and could have won more votes on all-defensive teams this year if his reputation hadn't been dented a bit in recent years.
It fits that the Lakers ended it that way, not with a flurry of insults or a signature shooting display from James like in Game 5, but with defensive dominance. It was Davis's blocked shots, quick pauses that led to so many layups and dunks, a complete blast from everyone involved compared to a unique feat.
You can point to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who came into the league as a player with endless defensive potential but seemed to be drifting in recent years and was re-engaged at that end due to Davis.
The same is true of the malevolent Rondo Rajon.
Competitors will line up for future shots with the champions who will have two big aces and one more with their defense, regardless of how the roster changes before the next season.
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