It took eight years, three months, and 18 days, plus an additional 51 days inside the NBA Bubble at Walt Disney World, but the Los Angeles Lakers have finally won a playoff series.
Isolated from the rest of the world as the COVID-19 pandemic devastates the country, the Lakers have had anything but smooth sailing during the 2019-20 NBA season. Following the death of Lakers' legend Kobe Bryant, the pandemic, a five-month hiatus, and now social unrest after the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the team has had to deal with plenty of adversity on and off the court.
"We have a PhD in handling adversity by now," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel.
The Lakers were originally supposed to take the court on Wednesday with an opportunity to eliminate the Trail Blazers. Instead, the Lakers followed the example set by the Milwaukee Bucks, and boycotted the game in protest.
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"We stood in solidarity with our brothers from Milwaukee regarding the situation that's going on in their hometown," LeBron James told TNT after the game. "So we stood with them, and we put together a plan, and we had action, and we want to continue that. So it's great to back on the floor, but more importantly, it's great to have a game plan off the court, be able to execute it and then put it into action right away."
As the ripple effect of those protests stunned the NBA and other sports leagues, the Lakers went from voting to not finish the postseason, to eventually joining their NBA brothers and pushing ahead with the playoffs, while simultaneously fighting for change when it comes to police reform, voting rights, and racial equality.
"There was some doubt," James admitted to TNT about not finishing off the NBA Playoffs. "But when you're able to put together a plan that can change the landscape of what's going on both on and off the floor, then you can have more clarity."
In the meantime, the Blazers best player, NBA Bubble MVP, Damian Lillard, left the bubble because of a right knee injury. The shorthanded Blazers did not let the absence of their MVP affect them in Game 5, as they refused to go quietly into the Walt Disney World night.
"They're a team that fights hard even without their best player," said Lakers forward Anthony Davis. "They still came out and put up a fight. I respect them so much. They made us come out and play tonight."
Portland was on fire from beyond the arc, shooting 13-for-27 (48 percent) from three-point range. In Lillard's absence, C.J. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony picked up the offensive slack for Portland, combining to score 39 points in the first half.
The Blazers led by as many as eight points in the second quarter, but LeBron James caught fire to close the half, finishing with 24 points at the break, and both teams went into the locker room tied at 68.
The game was the third and final NBA playoff game of the night, and easily the main event on the Saturday sports schedule, but it still felt like it took a backseat to the social unrest and the death of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer at the age of 43.
The Lakers came out of the half hot, and pulled away in the third quarter. They led by as many as 14 points, but the Blazers rallied to tie the game at 100 apiece midway through the fourth and final frame.
Anthony Davis had a huge second half for the Lakers, finishing the game with 43 points, 9 rebounds, and four three-pointers. James had another spectacular triple-double performance, finishing with 36 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. His 13th triple-double of his illustrious playoff career.
"Two of the best players in the game, rising to the challenge in a closeout game, both delivering special performances," said Vogel of his two superstars.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chipped in 14 points draining four three-pointers, and Dwight Howard had his best game of the postseason with 11 points off the bench.
McCollum led the Blazers 36 points. Anthony finished with 27, and Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Trent Jr. each had 16.
Led by Davis the Lakers pulled away in the final few minutes propelling themselves towards the finish line with a 16-3 run.
Following the victory, LeBron and the Lakers did not want to talk about their first playoff series win in over eight years. They wanted to put social issues, police reform, and voting center stage.
"Its tough to go out there and focus on basketball. We wanted to make sure we went out there and finish the job, while also off the court create change," said Davis. "The owners and the league has done a great job of turning NBA arenas into voting rights, and creating ads during NBA games to always keep everyone aware. We're pushing the needle and that's why we continue to play."
The Lakers will next play the winner of the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder series in the conference semifinals.