The question “why did the Lakers win game 5?” has an annoyingly simple answer. They have the best two players on the court. As long as I’ve been watching basketball the best players win championships (the only counterexample was when the Shaq/Kobe team that lost to the Pistons as their relationship fell apart). The Heat have seemed like an anomaly in that they have been the pesky 5 seed. In reality, they faced teams that were deeply flawed. This time around they face Lebron James and Anthony Davis.
The series hasn’t felt particularly close. The main reason for this of course is the injuries dealt to Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo. Game three seemed to be a welcomed reprieve for Spoelstra’s rag-tag team of underdogs. It took Jimmy Butler taking control of the game and virtually being the team’s entire offence. The Heat have used Dragic and Adebayo to initiate offence and Bam’s added versatility has made Miami the compelling story they’ve been in the post season. Dragic who had been slowed all post season by plantar fasciitis finally had the tendon tear and Adebayo returned in game 5 and looked a little worse for wear.
Game four saw the shift in power back toward the purple and gold as Butler missed a fairly open corner three moments before Anthony Davis hit the dagger three that allowed the Lakers to pull away. It is clear that the Lakers’ length and rebounding has caused problems for the Heat as has the Laker’s transition offense. The Lakers have been deadly in transition all season long but the thought heading into the series was that if Miami could force them into playing half-court sets they could have a chance at winning games. However, the injuries seem to have derailed that plan.
The main story-line heading into the finals was that this would be Lebron playing against the team he left in shambles before returning to Cleveland. His former coach Eric Spoelstra needed to find a way to help his team defeat the man who was once a hero in Vice City. On our podcast (Hot Sauce Sports), Terry Tam and I sat with Carlan Gay of DAZN and NBA Sound System to discuss Spoelstra’s legacy heading into the finals. The three of us shared the opinion that he is one of Basketball’s greatest coaches. The fact that he’s returned to the finals with a roster that most basketball connoisseurs would recognize as incomplete is truly impressive.
While this isn’t popular in the hot-take landscape of sports media, I do believe that each side will be happy once this series has reached its end. Lebron James knew that the Heat organization would rebuild as Dwayne Wade was starting to age. The blood-clot issue that ended Chris Bosh’s career definitely slowed that plan and while it was not yet known to LBJ or anyone else in the NBA it was clear that the end of the “Big Three” era saw a super team in decline.
Lebron, has always been self-aware of his legacy and the comparisons that have been drawn between him and the game’s greatest player. In his leaving Miami, he was also painfully aware of his mortality. While no player I can think of has ever aged as well as the 35 year old Lebron James, he must have recognized years ago that his window to catch Michael was closing. He could not wait for a rebuild and left for Cleveland. Once Kyrie Irving left town, Lebron realized once again he needed to move in order to have a chance to compete. An oddity associated with this is that people have finally learned to appreciate the player empowerment era and James as most of the United States seem united on wanting to see the Lakers as champions once again.
Across the court we have the surprising upstart put together by the impressive basketball mind that is Pat Riley. Eric Spoelstra has had impressive game plans throughout the playoffs. Certainly, there are those who will argue that these will have gone to waste without a championship in tow. However, the Heat have been playing the long game since the King’s departure. If there was any doubt about Spoelstra’s coaching or Riley’s ability to build a winner, those thoughts have been vanquished. Many of the loveable faces of the team (Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn0 have elevated their profile throughout the season and in the finals. These are all pieces that will be used to acquire the next big piece for a team that has played beyond their ability throughout this playoff series. Win or lose, there is a feeling that the Heat are destined to return to prominence in short order once again.