One year ago Monday, the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers took the court together for the first time.
For fans, it was the first time they saw LeBron James and Anthony Davis together in a Lakers' uniform. Little did they know what the next year would have in store for them.
A year later, James and Davis are still on the court in purple and gold—in the same season—and playing in the NBA Finals at World Disney World.
The dynamic duo of James and Davis combined to score 50 points as they lifted the Lakers over the Miami Heat, 102-96, in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
James, is now on the precipice of his fourth individual NBA championship, and a record-tying 17th for the Lakers franchise.
"I felt the pressure. For me personally, this was one of the biggest games of my career and I wanted to relay that message to my teammates," said James after the victory. "I know how great of a team we're playing against in the Miami Heat. I felt that if we really want to be a championship team we have to have that same grit and same attitude."
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After a 40-point triple-double by Jimmy Butler in Game 3 of the series, James and Davis took turns accepting the challenge of guarding Butler one-on-one in Game 4.
"He was hurting us. Obviously, he had 40 points last game," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel of his decision for James to guard Butler. "They rose to the challenge and really stepped up. They did a great job. That's what the playoffs are about, making adjustments."
The Lakers needed every minute of LeBron's skillset on both ends of the floor, as the three-time NBA Finals MVP helped hold Butler to 22 points.
Davis also scored 22 points, but it was his three-pointer with 39 seconds remaining that might have ended Miami's season.
The Lakers didn't even know if Davis would be on the court in the waning seconds of the game after teammate Alex Caruso was sent flying into his legs because of a Butler forearm with 7:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't want to come out of the game," said Davis of the injury. "It just happened. It's the Finals. Games are physical. You've got to be willing to leave it all on the floor. I just had to shake it off and fight through it."
Davis stayed down on the court, writhing in pain for a few minutes before he limped towards the Lakers bench. He returned with a vengeance after that, throwing down a thunderous alley-oop dunk on his first possession after the injury, and then delivering the dagger with 39 seconds to go to put the Lakers up nine, 100-91.
"You don't have to say anything to Anthony Davis," said Vogel about what he said to his star forward after the injury. "He wants this more than anything and you saw that tonight. That big three helped seal it, but he was great on both ends tonight."
The Heat got hope before the game when starting center Bam Adebayo tested his injured neck and decided to give it a go in Game 4.
However, starting point guard Goran Dragic tried to test his torn plantar fascia on his left foot during warmups, and after trying to move laterally limped off the court in tears and is likely still out for the remainder of the series.
Both teams came out aggressive to start the game, but the Lakers offensive remained sloppy, committing 10 first-half turnovers, six of which were committed by James.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had his best game of the Finals, scoring eight of the Lakers first 10 points, and was the only Laker in double-figures at the half. Caldwell-Pope continued his stellar performance in the fourth quarter, finishing with 15 points and five assists.
"It means a lot, that my teammates lean on me, to pick up the energy on the defensive end, and also make shots on the offensive end," said Caldwell-Pope. "I just felt good tonight. Stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played."
Miami opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run and led 39-34, before the Lakers responded with a 15-8 run of their own to take a 49-47 lead at the half.
The Heat kept the game close thanks to a collective effort. Adebayo scored 15 points in his first game back since Game 1 of the series. Duncan Robinson had 17 and Tyler Herro scored 21.
However, it was not enough to overcome the tag-team duo of James and Davis who would not be denied down the stretch.
The Lakers improved to a perfect 56-0 this season when leading after three quarters.
Lakers improved to 56-0 when leading after 3:
"The fourth quarter is obviously winning time," said James of the stat. "You have 12 minutes to buckle down the lead, try and hold that lead, and then you have to execute offensively. Our mindset is: if we win the quarter, we win the game."
James finished with a game-high 28 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists, and now has the Lakers on the precipice of another championship.