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Lakers ‘defensive masterpiece’ quite a close-out statement

The Lakers' Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, left, and Anthony Davis apply defensive pressure to the Miami Heat's Tyler Herro.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers were in the middle of building a 19-point lead in the second quarter on two free throws by Anthony Davis, their defense suffocating the Miami Heat in the process.

But that was not good enough for Rajon Rondo.

“Pick it up! Pick it up!” Rondo yelled at his teammates after Davis’ two free throws. “Let’s go!”

Rondo then picked up Jimmy Butler full court on defense, his intent the same as the rest of his teammates: to be defensive demons and to reclaim the defensive identity Lakers coach Frank Vogel had instilled in his team way back in training camp in September 2019.

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“We’re in the middle of a defensive masterpiece,” Vogel said he told his players in the huddle during a timeout.

And for the Lakers and their faithful, it was a beautiful thing to see them use that unrelenting force to push them toward the franchise’s 17th NBA championship, tying the Boston Celtics for the most in league history.

Complete coverage from the Lakers’ championship season

Defense, defense and more defense is what lifted the Lakers to a 106-93 victory over the Heat on Sunday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at the AdventHealth Arena.

“I’m so proud of that,” Vogel said.

Vogel went on to say that if “everybody is not working together and everybody is not bought in and seeing the value of being able to suffocate an opponent and take away their strength,
you’re not going to reach that level.

“But our guys saw the value very early on,” he added. “They bought in and the first three quarters … I’m just super proud of our guys. We were all over the place. We executed our coverages perfectly and we did it with energy and passion and active hands, and we rebounded the basketball and that controlled the whole game.… Just very, very proud of our defensive performance tonight.”

All of the Lakers took the defensive challenge in Game 6, starting with LeBron James taking on the out-of-this-world-playing Butler.

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Butler tore the Lakers apart in the first five games, averaging 29 points on 55.5% shooting, 10.2 assists and 8.6 rebounds, his herculean effort pushing the favored Lakers to a sixth game.

But with James hounding Butler, the Heat star finished with just 12 points in Game 6 on five-for-10 shooting. He was a minus-18 in the plus-minus rating.

And there was no let-up, even when the Lakers were up by 29 points, their intensity on defense showing when Davis stood his ground with four fouls and still intimidated Bam Adebayo into badly missing an inside shot.

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Alex Caruso got the start in place of Dwight Howard, and that was for his defense on the smaller and more active wing players the Heat have.

The Lakers held Miami to 20 points in the first quarter.

Then came the second, when the Lakers stymied the Heat, giving up just 16 points to extend their lead to 64-36 at the half.

The Lakers clamped down in the second quarter, holding Miami to 30.4% shooting and 14.3% from three-point range.

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Photos from the Lakers’ championship win over the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

The Lakers blocked three shots in the second, two by Davis and one by James.

Through three quarters, the Lakers had opened an 87-58 lead on the back of their defense.

The Lakers seemed to bully the Heat on defense, holding Miami to 36.2% shooting in the third, 28.6% from three-point range.

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The Lakers forced the Heat into 12 turnovers through those unyielding three quarters.

All of that played a part in the Lakers’ building a 36-point lead in the third, a lead that was built on defensive intensity and effort.

“It was attention to detail, the way we were locked in tonight, especially on the defensive end,” Rondo said. “We didn’t make too many mistakes tonight. And when we did, we quickly corrected it. And defensively it was all five guys. Coach’s game plan was right on point and we knew if we put it together for 48 minutes, we’d be able to come out and have a defensive game like we did tonight.”

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