Los Angeles Lakers: Superstars lead them back to the NBA Finals

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

After a decade-long drought, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally headed back to the NBA Finals.

Ten years ago, led by none other than Kobe Bean Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in a seven game series to win their 16th championship as an organization. Ten years later and eight months to the date day of Kobe’s passing, the Lakers have beaten the Denver Nuggets and are on their way to winning the organization’s 17th championship. The Lakers showed that they could accomplish what no other team in this year’s playoffs could: close out the Denver Nuggets leading the series 3-1.

The Lakers ended the series in commanding fashion, beating the Nuggets 117-110 in Game 5. While the Nuggets put up a fight to save their season, James would not let the Lakers lose. He racked up 38 points, 10 assists, and 16 rebounds, including a string of late game baskets to secure the win. On top of that, Anthony Davis added another 27 points on 50% shooting, and a perfect performance from the free throw line.

However, it was not just James and Davis who willed the team to finish off the Nuggets. The adjustments made by Coach Frank Vogel as well as the play of the role players allowed for a complete game on both sides of the floor.

Vogel’s Game 5 adjustments were the best we have seen all series. Like Game 4, Vogel  started Dwight Howard instead of JaVale McGee. All series, Howard’s presence on the floor did  wonders for the Lakers. Not only did having Howard on the floor give a good defensive matchup for Nikola Jokic, but it gave the Lakers some added rim protection, great rebounding, and overall, his energy seemed to be contagious throughout the team.

For defensive adjustments, Vogel did a great job of staggering Howard’s minutes to lineup with Jokic, forcing the Nuggets to generate part of their offense through someone else on the floor. Unlike previous games this series, Vogel gave Howard significant fourth quarter minutes, even allowing him to close the game. This made the Nuggets more reliant on late game points from an injured Jamal Murray and the rest of the Nuggets role players.

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As far as offensive adjustments, Vogel utilized high ball screens for LeBron because the Nuggets were switching on screens. This allowed LeBron to come off ball screens and attack downhill on a less athletic big man on his way to the basket. When the Nuggets switched back to fighting through screens after being killed by LeBron’s drives, LeBron instead came off screens ready to shoot jump shots in rhythm and capitalized off of a sagging defense.

Throughout the game, the Nuggets made multiple runs to get back in it, but Vogel’s adjustments allowed the Lakers players to thrive on both ends of the floor and ultimately secure the win.

While there was no clear third option for the Lakers this game, the rest of the team contributed on both ends of the floor. Dwight Howard totaled 9 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a +12 plus-minus in 35 minutes of play. Alex Caruso added another 11 points, 4 assists, and a +16 plus-minus, the highest of any Laker. Rondo and Kuzma each racked up 8 points, and Rondo added another 4 assists. In most games, the Lakers need a third option to chip in for scoring besides James and Davis, but LeBron was able to pick up the slack and score another 10-12 points himself to secure the Lakers win.

Overall, the Lakers showed in Game 5 why they deserve to be in the NBA Finals. The pure firepower of LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined with the versatility of the Lakers role players has set them apart from the rest of the league. After a relatively long NBA Finals drought, the Lakers are locked and loaded to take on anyone who comes out of the East. With some added rest from an early close-out win, the Lakers should be healed and ready to go for their final series to win the organization’s 17th championship.