Los Angeles: city of champions once again

Los Angeles: city of champions once again

Photo Credits: AGGIE FILE

Lakers win 17th title in franchise history, bringing an end to the eventful NBA season

In what turned out to be a season long and the first of its kind, the Los Angeles Lakers captured their 17th title in franchise history, tying the rival Boston Celtics for the most wins in NBA history. After almost a full year since the season tipped off last October, the pandemic turned this NBA season into one never seen before. Taking place inside the bubble located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fl, the NBA completed a successful three month journey through their playoffs. 

Coming into the bubble, the Lakers held the best record in the Western Conference and, being led by Lebron James and Anthony Davis, were determined to make a championship run. Having a team of veterans and older players, many doubted the Lakers ability to get it done. Having Lebron James wasn’t enough for some and being the first seed in the west didn’t change that. The Lakers did not help their cause entering the playoffs, as they went 3-5 in the seeding games leading up. Having matched up with the Portland Blazers that made a scorching run into the playoffs, many believed that the Lakers had their hands full and could possibly even lose the series. Those voices were only amplified when the Blazers stole Game 1. The pressure was on (or so they thought), but a 23 point Game Two win got the ball rolling for the Lakers and they never looked back, winning the series comfortably, four games to one. 

The Lakers’ second round opponent, the Houston Rockets, have had their fair share of playoff disappointment, but after acquiring Russell Westbrook in the offseason, they had their sights set on changing the narrative. After opening the series with a convincing 15 point win over the Lakers, many began to believe that this was the year for the Rockets and that they were a great matchup scheme wise for the Lakers. But, like we saw in the Portland series, the Lakers put their foot down and proved that the first game was a fluke, winning the next four games convincingly and advancing to the Western Conference Finals, where they thought they were convinced they knew their next opponent. 

 Many minimized the Lakers ability to get it down—even after their dominant performances in the first two rounds—and preferred their same-city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. Both seemed to be on a collision course for the Western Conference Finals and was expected to be one of the most anticipated playoff matchups in a long time. From the beginning of the season in mid-October 2019, this was the series everyone wanted to see. After taking a 3-1 series lead and leading by 16 in Game 5, the Clippers were a quarter away from that coming true. Instead, they blew that lead, and went on to shockingly blow the 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets. 10 years after their last battle, the Lakers and Nuggets met again in the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers came out firing from the start, winning the first game by 12 but with the Nuggets on the verge of tying the series, Anthony Davis hit a buzzer-beating three that won the game for the Lakers and changed the direction of the series. Although the Nuggets won Game Three, the Lakers never looked back and a marvelous performance by Lebron James down the  stretch of Game Five wrapped up the series, sending the Lakers to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. 

On the Eastern Conference side, the Miami Heat began their run as an under the radar team that many saw can give a battle, but very few thought they would get to where they did. Led by their big free agent signing Jimmy Butler, the Heat swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round and set up a date with the team with the best record in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks. 

A convincing win over the Bucks in Game One and a win in the final seconds in Game Two put Milwaukee on the brink of losing control. With the back-to-back MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokumpo, the Bucks knew they had to win Game three. They responded well through three quarters, holding a 12 point lead heading into the fourth quarter. But, a complete collapse in the fourth quarter that saw Milwuakee score only 13 points got lost them the game, and eventually the series. 

The Heat shocked the world and knocked out the Eastern Conference favorites in only five games. Their toughness and elite shooting kept them in every game, and the only team that stood in front of them and another NBA Finals berth was another young and hungry team: the Boston Celtics. The Celtics came into the series focused and tested in close games. That, however, was not on display in the Eastern Conference Finals, as many Celtics collapses down the stretch allowed the Heat to take a 3-1 series lead. Boston bounced back in Game Five, but a determined Miami team finished the job in Game Six, making their first finals since 2014. The matchup was set, a fiery Miami team going up against the dominant duo of Lebron James and Anthony Davis. 

The Lakers were out to make a statement in the opening game, winning in blowout fashion. The loss proved even costlier, as Miami lost Goran Dragic, their playoff leading scorer, and Bam Adebayo to injury. Adebayo returned in Game Four, but Dragic suffered a torn plantar fascia, subsequently ending his ability to make a significant impact in the series. An all time performance by Jimmy Butler in Game Three and Five gave Miami some hope, but in the end, the Lakers were too dominant, closing out the series in six games and winning another NBA Championship. 

After winning his fourth Finals MVP and becoming the first player in NBA History to win that award with three different teams, Lebron James reminded everyone why he will go down as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) players of all time. The theme on the Lakers side was that they never got respect. No matter how many games they won, what seed they were in or who they beat, it seemed like it was never good enough. After every positive, a negative had to be mentioned and they were always picked apart, making it seem like their wins were lessened. Now standing at the top of the NBA, the Lakers now hold something that no one can take away from them: the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

“We just want our respect,” James said in the postgame celebration. “Rob [Pelinka] wants his respect. Coach [Frank] Vogel wants his respect. Our organization wants their respect. Laker Nation wants their respect.”

“And I want my damn respect, too.”

As of now, there is little known about the next NBA season. There is no start date and no timeframe, but according to Commissioner Adam Silver, the start of the season will be sometime in the beginning of next year. The hope is that they can hold a full 82 game regular season and a full playoffs. The possibility of fans is something the NBA hopes can happen, but everything as of now remains unknown. The one true date the league has set is the NBA Draft, taking place on Nov. 18. Aside from that, free agency, training camps, salary cap and opening night are still up in the air. 

This season will go down as arguably the most memorable and unforgettable season in NBA history. From the hype coming in about the competitiveness of the league, to the tragic passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and from the pandemic stoppage to the NBA bubble, to the year long season left, it left many moments that will be impossible to forget. The league handled the pandemic in a perfect fashion, totaling zero positive COVID-19 tests in 172 games over three months of play. How this year’s championship Lakers are remembered remains to be seen, but the toughness and dominance they showed throughout this tough stretch, given the circumstances, will mark them down as one of the greatest champions ever. 

The NBA deserves massive amounts of credit for the way they handled everything throughout the season. They showed the world that it is possible to play professional sports and keep everyone involved safe and healthy. The sacrifices taken by the league, players, staff and everybody involved in the bubble will not go unnoticed and will not be forgotten. While there is not much known about next season, the NBA has shown enough to gain the benefit of the doubt that they will handle it to the best of their abilities.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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