Although it appeared to be written in the stars, the Los Angeles Lakers reaching the NBA Finals was still a feat made all the more impressive when the environment is taken into consideration. Being labelled the favourite can be as much a gift as a curse (see the Clippers) so it should not be understated how much of an achievement it is, in and of itself for the Lakers to reach their first NBA Finals in 10 years led by the dynamic duo of Lebron ‘King’ James and Anthony ‘AD’ Davis. In a year that witnessed the sudden and heartbreaking loss of Laker legend and NBA Hall of Fame player Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have been vocal about being motivated to win the NBA Championship for Kobe (further increasing the pressure on them). A team that was characterised as ‘off their game’ in the early goings of the 2020 NBA bubble has made short work of their Western conference opponents defeating the Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets all in 5 games to reach the Finals with a record of 12-3.
The connection between AD and Lebron ⚡️
Similarly the Miami Heat came into the NBA Finals with an identical 12-3 record. Led by All-Star free agency signing Jimmy ‘Buckets’ Butler and his capable All-Star centre Bam Adebayo, the Heat have shown that tenacious, swarming defence can bring down even the mightiest of teams. As the fifth seed in the Eastern conference, few predicted the Heat would sweep (winning a series without any losses) the Indiana Pacers before defeating the Milwaukee Bucks led by reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in 5 games. These impressive feats were eclipsed when the Heat defeated the Boston Celtics in 6 games to reach their first NBA Finals in 6 years.
I think about this block from time to time 🤯
Both teams played as well as they have under the unprecedented environment of the NBA bubble in Orlando. They alone can attest to the strain it has had mentally but I think as things have gone on all the naysayers that mentioned a championship won under these circumstances would have an asterisks next to it have been silenced. Another bit of connecting tissue between the teams is King James himself. A member of the 2012 and 2013 championship Heat teams, Lebron departed from Miami in the summer of 2014 to go home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. This led to him making history two years later by leading his team to come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors to bring Cleveland its first sporting trophy since 1963. The Finals homecoming match-up between Lebron and the Heat, the first franchise he won a title with, is an interesting sport story waiting to be written no matter how it plays out.
With that back drop, watching the first game of the 2020 NBA Finals I was captivated. The Heat came out white hot early, leading by 13 points in the 1st quarter but then something weird happened. It wasn’t Lebron or AD that spurred the Laker comeback, instead it was the much maligned figure of Kentavious ‘KCP Caldwell-Pope. It started with him stealing the ball from sharp-shooting Heat rookie Tyler Herro which led to a corner 3-ball he converted and he followed that up with a 3 from the same spot the very next Laker possession which forced the Heat to call a time out. The two shots from KCP not only brought his team closer on the scoreboard but flipped the momentum of the game and in the words of Davis,“KCP, saved us. He hit them two big 3s in the first quarter and got us going”. This is remarkable to me and other NBA heads because the season started very differently for KCP.
When the Laker started the season playing well, diehard fans happy as they were with the teams performance would never miss a moment to lambast KCP. “His defence has fallen off”, “his shooting is terrible”, “why hasn’t he been traded” were common refrains as he was the butt of many jokes on NBA twitter. Rumours abounded that he was only kept because he shares the same powerful agent, Rich Paul, as Lebron and Davis so the Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka sought to keep Paul happy by keeping KCP in an attempt to maintain favour with his two superstar clients.
Yes that is AD laughing at KCP missing a sitter 😂
Is this possible perhaps but this fails to take it account his actual skill and character. Yes many KCP bloopers abound the interwebs but like a lot of players he isn’t called to be a star on this Lakers team but a complimentary piece. A role player that serves a specific function, which in his case is 3-and-D. Such players specialise in three-point shooting and defence and during this post season he has been great. Shooting 41.5% from three and tallying 17 steals across 16 games played, he has lived up to and gone above and beyond his role at times.
One day the rookie will get a call, just not against a Lebron led team 🤣
The interesting thing for me though is his character. Through all the noise and online abuse it seems he has stayed unbothered and focused. Focused on his role, on the bigger picture of a NBA team, winning a championship. That doesn’t always mean doing the things that show up on a scoreboard or get highlights and often times as demonstrated by KCP it can lead to low lights. Through it all he remained confident in his ability and his team and that example of diligence and determination is something I hope to learn from. As I watched him speak only briefly during a mid-game interview, I remembered the old adage ‘control the controllables’. How you perform may sometimes be out of your hands but your work rate is always up to you.
Peace and Love,
Aharoun the Author