LeBron James has never seen a more “dominant duo” than Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
But nearly two decades after Shaq and Kobe dominated the early 2000s with their three consecutive titles, the Los Angeles Lakers might have the closest thing to that legendary tandem. James and Anthony Davis dominated the Miami Heat for a second consecutive game, becoming the first pair of Lakers teammates since O’Neal and Bryant to each score more than 30 points in a Finals game.
In doing so, they led the Lakers to a 124-114 victory over the undermanned Miami Heat on Friday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The Lakers’ lead 2-0 in this best-of-seven NBA Finals, the first 2-0 series lead for James in a Finals in his career.
“Being in high school, watching the Kobe-Shaq duo was the most dominant duo that I have personally seen in my life from a basketball perspective,” James said. “Obviously we knew the force that Shaq brought to the table, but the elegance and force that Kobe played with as well. They were very dominant in what they did on the floor, on both sides of the floor.
“So to be in the conversation with those two guys, myself and AD, is just very humbling, because I grew up watching those guys. I grew up admiring Kobe, obviously, a kid coming straight out of high school. … And the force that Shaq played with. It’s very humbling that we can be even mentioned with those greats.”
James and Davis dismantled Miami’s zone defense with their playmaking. For the second straight game, James barely missed out on a triple-double, posting 33 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds. And the Heat once again had no answer for Davis, who had 32 points on 15-of-20 shooting from the field and 14 rebounds.
The previous time a pair of Lakers teammates were this dominant in the Finals was when Bryant and O’Neal had their way with Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets in Game 3 of the 2002 Finals. James was just a junior in high school when O’Neal had 35 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks and Bryant had 36 points and six rebounds in a 106-103 victory on June 9, 2002. Kidd now is the lead assistant coach under Frank Vogel on the Lakers’ bench.
Though the 6-foot-10 Davis isn’t the physically unstoppable force that the 7-1, 325-pound O’Neal was in the paint, Davis has been able to score almost whenever and however he has wanted to. He has scored 34 and 32 points in the two Finals games and is shooting 26-of-41 from the field against the Heat.
Davis is only the fifth player in Finals history with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 75% shooting in a game, joining O’Neal (twice), Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“I expect him to get 50 every night,” said point guard Rajon Rondo, who continued to shine in the playoffs with 16 points and 10 assists off the bench. “He’s damn near playing like the best player in the game. Hands down.”
And then there’s James, who has bullied his former team with muscle and superb playmaking to average 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists in the Finals. With Goran Dragic (foot) and Bam Adebayo (neck) out, the Heat turned to their zone defense after having little success double-teaming the Lakers’ star duo in Game 1.
Miami employed its zone on 65 plays after using it only four times in Game 1. But the Lakers, often utilizing Davis or James in the middle of the zone, scored 66 points against it. Davis and James scored or assisted on 46 of those points, per ESPN Stats & Info research.
Down 2-0 and with two of his best players injured, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked how Miami can overcome what feels like an impossible mountain to climb.
“Whatever is necessary,” he said. “It’s simple as that. If you want something badly enough, you’ll figure it out. Our group is extremely stubborn, persistent, and we just need to figure out how to overcome this opponent.”
The opponent, though, features a duo that is looking like Shaq and Kobe in the Finals.
James was asked which one of the Lakers’ current superstar duo is O’Neal and which one plays more like Bryant.
“I guess if you look in the sense of the size and the power and the speed that Shaq at his size played with, you could look at my game throughout the course of my career and say that,” James said. “And then you look at the elegance and the ability to shoot the ball and the ability to play in the paint as well as post up and get to the perimeter, I guess you can say that you can have some of AD’s game that could compare to Kobe’s game in that sense.”
“But I guess all four of us, we have a winning mentality,” James added. “I can’t even believe I’m up here talking about myself and AD with Kobe and Shaq.”
The Heat might need James and Davis to start bickering like O’Neal and Bryant often did to get back into the series. Davis said that there were multiple blown coverages on defense in Game 2, leading to some frustration between himself and James at one point.
“We are two guys who want to win no matter the circumstance,” Davis said. “We both want to make sure that we do whatever it takes to help our team win. When you have two guys that are selfless … it’s not always going to be pretty. Sometimes we are going to argue and have disagreements, but we know it’s coming from the right place.
“When you have two guys who want to win as bad as we do and want to be dominant every single game, you have games like tonight where two guys, we’re able to score the basketball and able to rebound and able to find guys. It’s rare you see it.”
With the way things are going so far in these Finals, the only argument Davis and James might have is who is Shaq and who is Kobe in this latest Lakers super duo.
“He’s Kobe because he handles the ball,” Davis said. “And I’m Shaq because I play in the post.”
The Lakers did not escape Game 2 without injury. Starting guard Danny Green has tightness in his hip and will be reevaluated on Saturday. Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday.