The Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions, and there is little reason to think that title wasn’t earned. The team was dominant before the COVID-19 hiatus, then looked similar dominant in the NBA playoffs at Walt Disney World.
However, Miami Heat president Pat Riley has something to say about the one series the Lakers didn’t win in five games.
Pat Riley: Heat could have pushed series to 7 games at 100 percent
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Riley was asked about the Heat’s six-game Finals loss. While he praised the Lakers and said they beat the Heat “fair and squarely,” he also used the word “asterisk.”
Specifically, Riley said he wondered what would have happened if the Heat had Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic at 100 percent:
Reflecting on the six-game Finals loss, he said: “I would like to see what it would be like with everybody whole. We’ll get our chance again. The Lakers have the greatest player in the game today in LeBron [James] and Anthony Davis.
“They beat us fair and squarely. But there will be always be that asterisk; if we had Bam and Goran 100 percent — Goran was our leading scorer [entering the Finals] — it might have gone to a seventh game.”
The Heat lost both Adebayo and Dragic to injury in Game 1 of the Finals. Adebayo sustained a neck strain that kept him out until Game 4, while Dragic was out until the series-deciding Game 6 with a torn plantar fascia.
Even when each player returned, neither looked 100 percent upon returning. Given that the pair were in the Heat’s top three in both points and assists per game during the regular season (Adebayo led the team in rebounds as well), that was a big loss for the Heat.
However, even if you accept the premise of a full-strength Heat being capable of beating the Lakers — the Heat aren’t exactly alone in losing an NBA Finals with significant players sidelined. Just look at last season, when the Golden State Warriors fell with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson missing games. There was also the Cleveland Cavaliers falling in the 2015 Finals after losing Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
Even the Lakers might have had an excuse this year with Avery Bradley’s opt-out due to the pandemic, though that was obviously less impactful than the Heat’s losses.
It’s tough losing an NBA Finals with injury-created what-ifs, but we’d have to crank out quite a few more asterisks if that’s the standard we’re setting for championship legitimacy.
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