LOS ANGELES — To win a championship in the NBA, teams almost always need at least one transcendent player.
But the road to championships also depends on how well the team’s role players do their jobs.
The Lakers, who boast 17 titles, know that all too well. Would you have won the championship in 2010 without Metta Sandiford-Artest, or in 2002 without Robert Hawley? O’Neill often talks about the importance of the ‘other’, players who aren’t stars.
The Lakers franchise found itself on the uncomfortable side of calculation this year. In the Western Conference Finals against Denver, Los Angeles has weak supporting characters. Leading the best-of-seven series with a 3-0 record, the Nuggets not only beat the Lakers with the talents of two-time NBA Player of the Year Nikola Jokic and dynamic guard Jamal Murray. Aaron Gordon’s toughness, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s composure, Bruce Brown’s versatility and Michael Porter Jr.’s tenacity help them pull it off.
On Monday, the Nuggets will look to sweep the Lakers and reach the NBA Finals for the franchise’s first time. There were certainly moments when Jokic and Murray guided Denver, but a key part of the Nuggets’ success is that they didn’t always have to. As Murray and Jokic falter, the team’s role players flow in and together they fight back whatever tide the Lakers come up against.
“There are a lot of guys who can get it,” Gordon said. “So we just go with handsome guys.”
Jokic is the driving force behind the Nuggets, but Gordon also called Jokic “one of the most selfish basketball players.” Jokic averaged 29.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 10.1 assists and a triple-double in the playoffs. But even when he’s not at his best, his mere presence changes the game. That happened Saturday in Game 3 against the Lakers, which the Nuggets won 119-108. Jokic scored just five points and grabbed two rebounds at halftime, but was in foul trouble less than halfway through the third quarter with his fourth.
“There was no panic,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “It was, ‘Okay, he’s out.’ I mean, somebody needs to step up.” “
Not only did the Nuggets players accept the role they had to delegate to others, they accepted the role to win the championship. Jokic was the only All-Star on the team this year, and Nugget wasn’t named to the All-Defensive Team. While playing together, Jokic never played with the players who made those teams.
Caldwell Pope scored 12 points in a crucial third quarter on Saturday when Jokic was in foul trouble and Murray was sober after scoring 30 points in the first half.
Caldwell Pope last played in the Western Conference finals in 2020, he was with the Lakers I’m on a mission to protect Murray.. The Lakers defeated Denver to win the West Division, then Miami to win the title. Caldwell Pope knows what Denver needs to win this year.
“There’s a reason we’re number one in the West,” Caldwell Pope said. “From the moment I jumped, I believed we could win.
Denver’s Jeff Green, who played 23 minutes on Saturday, has been with nine teams over the past eight seasons. A first-round pick by the Nuggets in 2018, Porter missed most of last season with a back injury. He led the Nuggets with 14 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday. Brown signed with Denver last summer after scoring 15 points on the bench.
Gordon, the 4th overall pick out of Orlando in 2014, was once best known for his impressive performances in the league’s dunk contests. His performance on Saturday wasn’t all that impressive with seven points, three rebounds and four assists, but his defensive contribution was key. He blocked a shot late in the third quarter to help the Nuggets maintain their lead.
“He checked his ego on the doorstep,” Malone said. “He knew his role would be different going into this year with Jamal and Michael back, but he didn’t hold back.”
This is not always the case with an ambitious team, but this year’s NBA season provided an example of how friction can arise. Golden State’s younger players, for example, wanted more playing time. But Denver, who led the West for most of the season, is an example of how good the system can be when it works.
“Everyone knows that when you need something, you need an inspiration,” Murray said. “It could be the Joker, it could be me, it could be Bruce, it could be Jeff off the bench — whether it’s a chase down block or a charge or whatever. I have something that can affect the
The Lakers were another example of a team that struggled to please everyone in their role this season. In February, he traded Russell Westbrook, who was unhappy with his role on the bench. He had just joined the team less than two years ago on a multi-team deal that sent Caldwell Pope from Los Angeles to the Washington Wizards. Westbrook’s transfer was part of a larger effort to add several new role players who have played many inspiring games. But against the Nuggets, their shortcomings were clear.
The most notable example is D’Angelo Russell, who went 1-of-8 on 3-point shots and made 3 turnovers in Game 3.
Lakers manager Durbin Hamm had nothing but good things to say about the performance of the Lakers’ role players. “I thought they all did their best.”
But sometimes more is needed, like what Sandiford Artest gave the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals vs. Boston.
In Game 7, Bryant, the team’s leading scorer throughout the regular season and playoffs, shot just 6-of-24. The Lakers relied mostly on defense from past Defenseman of the Year Sandiford-Artest, but he scored 20 points in that game and made a crucial 3 with less than a minute remaining. I hit a point shot.
Sandyford Artest sat across from the Lakers’ bench on Saturday, a powerful reminder of how important role players are to winning championships.