This one was rough and rugged—anything but pretty. And the roar LeBron James let out after Anthony Davis basically sealed the deal in Game 4 with a dagger 3-pointer was a mixture of euphoria, relief, and a siren to the basketball world that he’s only 48 minutes away from history.
If you loved 90s basketball, you probably loved what you saw Tuesday in the NBA Finals where every possession felt like a battle. At the end of regulation, the Lakers left the court battered and bruised, but blissful that they held on for a 102-96 victory that was largely predicated on their gritty defense.
Los Angeles now has a commanding 3-1 lead in the series over undermanned and overmatched Miami. The only drama remaining now is who will earn Finals MVP honors. And that’s a big deal because we could see James pull off the unprecedented yet again.
Secure one more win and that means James will have won his third NBA championship with his third team. Upping the ante, James could be on the verge of becoming the first player in league history to win Finals MVP honors with three different squads.
The Lakers need to button things up first, but it feels like it’s time to start having the debate about who deserves MVP honors since history tells us the Lakers will wrap up the franchise’s 17th title. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
James partner-in-crime, Davis is the only competition for MVP honors since AD was awesome in the series’ first two games and redeemed himself Tuesday after a poor performance in Game 3. Davis finished with 22 points—including that huge 3-pointer with 39.5 seconds to go that gave the Lakers a 9-point lead and a key block on Jimmy Butler two possessions later when the Heat could’ve really made the Lakers sweat this one out.
“You saw what [Davis] did tonight defensively, and obviously that big three helped seal it, but was great on both ends all night,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
While James struggled mightily to get into any kind of rhythm in the first half, he turned it on in the second half and finished as the game’s leading scorer with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope deserves his props since he was huge for the Lakers, pouring in 15 points including two key buckets late in the game—a corner 3-pointer with 2:58 to go that pushed LA’s lead to 5 and a driving layup two possessions later that made it a 7-point advantage. Danny Green added 10.
Miami was neck-and-neck with Los Angeles throughout and easily could’ve handed the Lakers their first loss of the season in 56 games when they led after three quarters and shockingly make the Finals a best-of-3 series. But the Heat didn’t execute like it did in Game 3 and for that you credit the Lakers gritty defense—including Davis who drew the assignment of Butler down the stretch. After going off for 40 points in Game 3, Miami's top player had 22, 10, and 9, but he couldn’t carry the Heat over the top to even the series. The Lakers were aggressive agitators in ways they weren’t in Game 3 and displayed the right amount of desperation, clutch shooting, and defensive intensity to put them on the precipice of a title.
“This was a grind-out, throwback game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Both teams were competing with great force. It's not like anybody was giving up any quarter on either side, and you just have to make some plays down the end. I don't think we didn't make plays, I just think they just made more plays and more shots to seal it.”
Now let the Finals MVP debate begin. Those who are overly sentimental and/or students of NBA history might lean toward LeBron—the ultimate play-maker, facilitator, and competitor in today’s NBA who is so close to doing something so unique. And he’d certainly be worthy of the honor. Others might argue AD deserves it for those awesome first two games and one more monster performance to close out the series could seal the deal in his favor.
We’ll reserve judgment until we see what happens in LA’s close out game, which could come Friday. For now, here’s four more observations from Game 4.