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Saying goodbye to the successful NBA Bubble

A deserving champion was crowned after the extremely successful NBA restart.

2020 NBA Finals - Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

My last post began like this:

“Game Five was the best game of the Finals, by far: Close, well-played, and two superstars matching each other blow for blow.”

Game Six was none of those things. Instead, after a remarkably exciting Bubble Playoffs, the Finals ended with a thud.

Earlier in the Finals, I wrote that “other than the fans of the team doing the sweeping, no one enjoys the sweep of any series, especially if it happens in the NBA Finals”. The same is true of a blow-out, but even more so. Indeed, most of my Laker fan friends acknowledged that Game Six was pretty boring, as the outcome was obvious half-way through the second quarter. Eight minutes into the second quarter, the Heat had only 32 points. Two minutes later they had only 34. Two minutes later, it was halftime, and the Heat had 36 points. The Lakers scored 36 points in the second quarter. After going 21 for 22 on free throws in Game Five, the Heat missed 7 free throws in the first half, going 5 for 12.

Other than the missed free throws (which the Lakers defense did not cause), the Heat’s problems on offense were caused by a tremendous Laker defense. By starting Alex Caruso instead of Dwight Howard, the Lakers had three excellent perimeter defenders to contain the Heat’s motion offense and cover all the Heat’s shooters. This allowed the Lakers to put LeBron James on Jimmy Butler, with Anthony Davis free to play center field in the paint because his man, Bam Adebayo, doesn’t go more than a step outside the key.

Starting Caruso instead of Howard also meant that AD did not need to start the game covering Butler, or another perimeter player. Frank Vogel probably did not want to tax AD’s heel injury from Game Five. However, any concern about that injury dissipated during the course of the game, as I didn’t see any sign of the injury.

As a result, the problem for the Heat was not that they were missing good shots. The problem was the Lakers prevented the Heat from getting good shots at all. While the Heat went only 13 for 39 in the first half, that was actually a fairly good percentage for the quality of shots they were getting. All of which led to a 64-36 halftime score, effectively ending the game, the Finals, the Bubble Playoffs and the season.

Other thoughts

1. The disappointing quality of Game Six got me thinking, while normally more basketball games, especially playoff games, is a good thing, this Finals would have been better if Danny Green had made that three-pointer at the end of Game Five. It would have given DG a signature “Robert Horry” type moment as he joined Big Shot Bob in the exclusive club of players with NBA Championships on three different teams. And it would have avoided the season ending on the dud of a game. That being said, DG looked pretty happy with how everything turned out:

2. One more comment about DG’s missed shot. That miss led to various memes that weren’t very flattering. Even worse, he received death threats. Who does that? When the announcing team mentioned those threats during the game, Mark Jackson pontificated “We are better than that”. To which Jeff Van Gundy accurately responded “I don’t think so”. Put another way: Please vote.

3. Another Jackson-Van Gundy debate concerned whether Vogel had a difficult job as coach of the Lakers. Jackson asserted that Vogel had an easy job because he had LeBron and AD on the team. Jackson must have forgotten that numerous Big Twos have lost in the playoffs over the years. West/Chamberlin, Bird/McHale, Magic/Kareem, Stockton/Malone and Leonard/George just to name a few. In fact, Spurs fans may remember beating a Big Three in the Finals a few years back. (LeBron does too.) All in all, Vogel did an excellent job coaching this Lakers team, turning it into a defensive juggernaut. Because of that, LeBron and AD got to hold the trophy and smile. Though I am still wondering how Rob Lowe photo-bombed this picture:

4. With Caruso and Duncan Robinson, two undrafted former G-League players started in an NBA Finals game. That should make it easier for G-League coaches to motivate their teams. (Another undrafted player, Luguentz Dort, scored 30 points in Game Seven of the OKC - Houston series.) A former teammate of mine in college (whose son played with Robinson at Williams) pointed out that Robinson may be the first player ever to lose a championship game at three different levels: At Williams in the Division 3 finals to Wisconsin-Whitewater, at Michigan to Villanova (in the Donte DiVencenzo game), and in Game Six of the Bubble Finals to the Lakers. If anyone is wondering, Robinson was the MVP for his team that won the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Class A championship in 2013.

5. Mike Breen mentioned in the fourth quarter that it was a disappointing end of the season for the Miami Heat. As I have commented many times in connection with March Madness, every team but one loses their last game. Every teams but one has a disappointing end to their season, and cries sad tears, or as my family calls it, “sad water”. Only the champion gets to cry happy tears. This year that team was the very well-deserving Los Angeles Lakers.

Finally, as is now a tradition like “One Shining Moment” at the end of March Madness, I will end this season with a list of Favorite Memories that sustain me during the off-season. Some from the distant past, some from the recent present.

One Favorite Memory that somehow dropped off the list was “Michael Cooper in a defensive stance”. In honor of meeting Coop in this picture (in which we are in fact discussing Coop in a defensive stance), I think I need to drop it back in.

That picture was taken at a Staples Center event on March 2 earlier this year. Ten days later, the NBA shut down the season after Rudy Golbert was diagnosed with COVID-19. Thankfully, the NBA rejuvenated the season, bringing joy to many NBA fans with the incredibly well done and safe Bubble — and allowed me to expand my Favorite Memories List:

Michael Cooper in a defensive stance,

Jamal Murray and the Joker pick and popping,

Jerry West dribbling hard right and pulling up for a jumper,

The Spurs Beautiful Gaming the Miami Heat off the floor in the Redemption Finals,

Robert Horry spotting up in the last minute of a playoff game,

Danny Green snuffing out an opponent’s fast break,

Wilt finger-rolling,

Steph Curry sprinting around the court, and around screens, looking for any opening to catch and shoot a 3,

DFish bellying up on a guy who is bigger faster quicker and more talented (even though Tony still dominated him),

Spurs youth movement players improving,

Luka Doncic creating,

Manu Ginobili competing,

Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray matching up,

Magic Johnson running the middle dishing this way, wait, no, that way,

Patty Mills taking a charge, or sprinting over to help a teammate to their feet after they took one,

Rick Barry under-handing,

Giannis Euro-stepping,

The Oui Frenchman tear-dropping,

Nick Nurse box and one-ing

Dirk step-backing,

Earl the Pearl spin-dribbling,

Klay Thompson heating up,

Pistol Pete behind-the-back or between-the-legs passing,

Chick Hearn hyper-ventilating,

Dr. J dunking,

Popovich teaching,

Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry hobbiting,

Lebron chasing down a seemingly uncontested breakaway lay-up,

The Great Duncan blocking a shot, controlling the ball, and throwing the long bounce outlet pass,

Stockton pocket passing,

The Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler maximizing,

And in honor of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers — champions enjoying each other’s company one last time in the Bubble — celebrating.

Yep, those are my Favorite Hoops Memories. They are important now more than ever, as no one knows exactly when the NBA will return, or how.