We’re back where we belong. Since our last NBA Finals ended With Kobe standing atop the scorer table joining the city of Los Angeles in celebration while the team celebrated around him on the court so many things have come and gone in Laker Nation. Luke Walton went from a key contributor on that tree am to the Laker head coach to Sacramento, Pau Gasol has played for 3 different teams, Phil Jackson took a shot at running the Knickerbockers, Lamar Odom almost died partying in Nevada, Kobe and Gigi tragically passed away this year. Through it all Laker Nation never wavered in its support for the team, critique and criticism is not a loss of fandom or submersion of support. All of this just goes to show that it’s a long way to the top of you want to rock and roll.
- LeBron James putting the nails in the coffin. James turned in a stellar performance to ensure there would be no game 6, to make sure that he and other key Laker vets got the extra rest that can give them an edge against whomever they faced, and most of all to make sure the NBA was put on notice. He joined James Worthy and the as the one if three NBA players to post 35+ points, 15+ rebounds and 10+ assists in a close out playoff game. Historical footnotes aside, LeBron was spectacular. He fed teammates for easy buckets, He had a personal best 16 points in the 4the quarter. The Nuggets has no answer.
- Anthony Davis and his long journey to the precipice of greatness. Playing in the NBA Finals makes you part of a small group of NBA players. Davis carries the Lakers for stretches in last night’s game and during the regular season. Last night he again didn’t rebound like we’re used to but that can perhaps be forgiven in light if two of his teammates grabbing 25 rebounds on their own (James 16, Howard 9). Where he shined was on defense and scoring the balm efficiently when it was needed to stop Denver runs. His 2 steals were great but his block of a Michael Porter Jr. dunk put a stamp on his defense and this series. He hit 2-4 from 3, 8-16 in general. Anthony looks poised, gritty and ready to beast in the NBA Finals. The extra rest might benefit him the most as it’ll allow him to get extra treatment on that ankle he’s tweaked a couple times in the last 2 games.
- Laker starters answering the bell. The other Lakers who start shot 7-12 (2-5 from three), grabbed 10 rebounds, had 2 dimes, 4 big blocks, 2 steals and none had a negative +/- (AD was the only starter with a -1, lol. Misleading stat) They all played 26+ minutes aren’t locked in on defense when they played helping contain the Denver attack.
- The Laker bench. As we entered the playoffs it was largely agreed upon that Kyle Kuzma was the most important player outside of James and Davis. It turns out that the Laker bench is one of our greatest strengths, as it should be for an NBA Finals-bound team. Rondo has returned to a youthful posture and leads the team when James sits or allows him to be an off ball wrecking crew when they share the floor. Markieff Morris has shown versatility, grit and his three point acumen. JaVight McHoward has shown they can start, cone off the bench, sit and cheer or whatever: they’re here to contribute however the team needs. Kyle Kuzma continues to grow, while still streaky with his scoring he’s found some identity on defense and team play. Alex Caruso has impressed with his defensive tenacity, basketball IQ and toughness. Last night Caruso shines brightest off the bench with surgical stroke cuts for buckets, great defense and some in the flow assists. Rondo only played 1: minutes, Kuzma looked a little ‘deer in the headlights’ at times but found ways to be a force. All of that will be needed in the NBA Finals.
- Hats off and high fives for the Denver Nuggets franchise. They’re going to be a problem for a long time. They have two up and coming superstars, a great coach and a bevy of solid role players. I have nothing but admiration for the Denver Nuggets and how they overcame the odds and pundits to get to the Western Conference Finals. They never folded, played with a ton of heart (Jamal Murray gutting it out on one leg should go down in Denver playoff lore) and Jerami Grant showed the NBA he’s more than a role-player and might be the third star Denver needs to sign. I’ve long admired Paul Milsap’s game and wish the plucky vet nothing but the best. Congrats to the Denver Nuggets for reminding us why it’s important that we ply the games and not just go with predictions or hype.
At any rate, it’s on. I can’t deny my excitement and joy both at how we’re playing right now, especially on D, or how close we are to another banner going up in STAPLES. James and Anthony look like a nigh-unstoppable duo right now and we need to ride this wave to four more wins against whomever the East throws at us. Enjoy this, though, Lakerholics. Winning the west isn’t often celebrated by the purple and gold and their fans, it used to be seen as fait accompli. But it’s been so long and we’ve seen a road so dark for so long that this one feels different. So it’s cool to double-point and snap at that person wearing a Laker jersey walking by, smile under your mask, let this shine a little light on our lives during a tough time on Earth.