Good morning, folks. Anthony Davis is going to the NBA Finals. Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS – GAME 5
For the first time in the John Calipari-era at Kentucky, a former Wildcat will play a prominent role for an NBA Finals team; Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers are heading back to the title round for the first time since 2010. Alongside LeBron James, Davis and company broke down Jamal Murray and the Nuggets, destroying Denver’s dream of a third consecutive 3-1 series comeback. Hobbled by injuries and foul trouble down the stretch, the Nuggets had Lakers fan on pins and needle after naturally trimming a 16-point L.A. lead in the fourth quarter down to just three. Then LeBron locked in, scoring nine points in the final four minutes (16 in the fourth quarter overall) as the Lakers advance to its league-high 32nd Finals appearance and the 10th personal Finals appearance for LeBron with a 117-107 win.
Game 5 started off in a similar fashion to Game 4: with Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic getting into early foul trouble thanks to the annoyance of Lakers center Dwight Howard. Jokic picked up two quick fouls not even halfway through the first quarter and was immediately sent to the bench. The Serbian big man already had five points and an assist up until that point–and Denver was ahead 12-10–but he would sit out the remainder of the period. Despite playing 10 minutes in the first quarter, Jamal Murray only fired off two shot attempts and added just two points for Denver, who trailed 33-30 heading into the second quarter. Both teams received a scoring punch from their respective benches through the first, with the Lakers contributing 17 points off the pine, six of which came off a pair of triples from Rajon Rondo, and 16 coming from the Nuggets.
Jokic came right back in the game to begin the second quarter, quickly dropping in two hooks shots as the Lakers rolled with JaVale McGee for this stint instead of Howard. But once again, not even three minutes into the period, Jokic picked up a needless offensive foul and sat out the remainder of the half with three personals. At the time, Denver was down just one point, but now it felt like they just needed to tread water until they could reach the second half. Led by a furious run courtesy of LeBron, the Lakers began to separate themselves and took a 61-51 lead into the intermission. LeBron and Davis combined for 25 first-half points while Murray added eight as Jokic played only eight minutes.
To open up the third quarter, the Lakers were smelling blood. They continued to pour points onto the Nuggets backline with a helpless Jokic avoiding fouls rather than making a serious defensive effort. The lead reached as many as 16 for L.A. in the third and Denver never cut the advantage to under double-digits until roughly four minutes left in the period. But a momentum-swinging flagrant foul called on Howard led to a Nuggets rally–because why would we have it any other way??
Denver executed a beautiful 23-9 run to close the period, at one point tying the game at 84 before Anthony Davis responded with a huge shot from deep right before the buzzer. Jokic was able to play the majority of the period before picking up his fourth foul with about two minutes left and it was the efforts of Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap helping lead the comeback charge. At this point, Murray was visibly struggling to move up and down the floor after suffering a leg injury during the third quarter. He later said after the game he was dealing with a bruised foot. Despite the pain, he continued to battle, knowing this might be his last quarter in the Bubble. The stage was now set for a close-out opportunity for Davis and the Lakers.
They didn’t even entertain the idea of letting the decision come into doubt, either. LeBron James exploded for 16 fourth-quarter points with Davis adding another seven. The Nuggets never let themselves lose sight of the Lakers lead, but they couldn’t do enough to overtake L.A. down the stretch. The Lakers finished off the series with an 18-8 run, winning 117-107 and advancing to the NBA Finals. Davis’ night concluded with 27 points, five rebounds, and three assists on an 8-16 shooting clip while Rondo added eight points, three rebounds, and four assists. LeBron was locked in, recording his 27th postseason triple-double consisting of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. This will be Davis’ first-ever trip to the Finals, the third for Rondo, and the 10th for LeBron, tied for third-most all-time.
While we might need to have a conversation about Davis’ rebounding issues over the last three games (only 12 combined boards through the final three outings of the series), his scoring abilities are being put on full display right now and there wasn’t a player on the Nuggets who proved they could slow him down. The Lakers were able to limit Denver’s offense, especially with Jokic in foul trouble and Murray dealing with a sore foot. The Nuggets shot 42.2 percent from the floor (compared to the Lakers 54.5 percent) while only converting on eight of the team’s 30 shot attempts from deep. Murray’s postseason ended with 19 points, four rebounds, and eight assists, but an incredibly bright future to look forward too.
”It’s not the end goal but to make it as far and surprise as many people as we did, it’s a good feeling,” Murray said after the game. ”So, try to come back next year and try to come back stronger.”
Murray’s postseason stat line for the 2020 playoffs ends like this: 26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists in 39.6 minutes per game on shooting splits of 50.5/45.3/89.7. He is 23 years old.
The Lakers now await the winner of the Celtics-Heat series, which could conclude as early as Sunday evening when Miami can close out Boston in Game 6.
|Anthony Davis (LAL)||117-107 W @ DEN||27||8-16 (2-4)||5||3||2||1||1||-1||34|
|Jamal Murray (DEN)||107-117 L vs. LAL||19||7-17 (0-4)||4||8||1||0||5||-10||43|
|Rajon Rondo (LAL)||117-107 W @ DEN||8||3-5 (2-4)||3||4||0||0||1||-4||12|
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS – GAME 6
7:30 (ESPN):  Celtics (Kanter) @  Heat (Adebayo, Herro) [MIA leads 3-2]
The Miami Heat could have done what the Lakers did on Saturday: close out their Conference Finals opponent in Game 5. But the Boston Celtics weren’t going to play the role of the Nuggets in this series.
The Celtics trailed by seven at halftime two days ago and looked to be on the brink of elimination before they turned the tables and completely overwhelmed the Heat. Boston took great care of the ball in Game 5 after doing a poor job in Game 4, received consistent production from its star players, limited Miami’s outside scoring, and found a way to break down Erik Spoelstra’s zone defense just enough to gain an advantage. Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo played arguably two of their worst games of the entire playoffs in Game 5, something the latter was quick to admit in the postgame. A lot is going to have to go wrong for Miami for that to happen two games in a row.