The Los Angeles Lakers have built a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Going into the championship round, there were still questions looming about the Lakers' supporting cast. The greater majority declared the Heat the deeper team, and perhaps rightfully so, but as Los Angeles enters Game 3 with just three losses the entire playoffs, it's time to give their role players the credit they deserve.
Surrounding LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the starting lineup is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and typically either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard. Off the bench, they expect production from guys like Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris.
In a perfect world the Lakers (and their fans) would expect consistency from individuals in this group, but it's time to realize that of these eight quality players, they're bound to get strong performances from at least two of them each game. And that's exactly what Los Angeles has gotten to this point.
In a completely subjective tally with no real baseline to decide what could be considered "stepping up", I counted at least two of the Lakers role players stepping up to provide good minutes in all but four of their playoff games.
To no surprise, two of those four games - Game 1 versus the Portland Trail Blazers and Game 1 against the Houston Rockets - resulted in losses.
The only other two instances where I counted only one Laker role player providing strong mintues was Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs and Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
In Game 5 against the Blazers, Caldwell-Pope's 14 points, five assists and three steals complimented Davis' 43-point explosion and James' 36-10-10 triple-double, showcasing that sometimes that duo is so incredible that they don't need much help. In Game 2 against the Nuggets, it was Caldwell-Pope's 11 points shooting 3-for-5 from 3-point range that supplemented Davis' takeover down the stretch, closing things out with a game-winner. Again, proving that at times, the two Los Angeles superstars will be so great that it doesn't matter what the rest of the team does.
Aside from those games, in some combination, the Lakers role players have come through to give LeBron and AD enough support to win games.
In the playoffs, KCP has shot 38.7% from beyond the arc but an even more impressive 42.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s, doing exactly what's being asked of him on both ends of the floor. Although he hasn't been as consistent, Green has converted at least two 3-pointers in 10 of his team's 17 games so far.
Rondo has taken his game to another level in the playoffs as we've seen so many times, averaging 7.2 assists per game (the second-best on his team behind James) while shooting an uncharacteristically sharp 44.7% from long range. He's coming off of a game where he had a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists, joining Manu Ginobili as the second player in the last 35 years (!) to have over 15 points and 10 assists off the bench in an NBA Finals game.
Only two players in 35 years have dropped 15 points and 10 assists off the bench in the Finals: Manu Ginobili and @RajonRondo- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 3, 2020
(h/t @ESPNStatsInfo) pic.twitter.com/2K2Uqm8xus
Caruso has been a utility player specializing on the defensive end for the absent Avery Bradley, boasting a team-best net rating of plus-9.8 for the playoffs. Kuzma has scored in double figures in over half of the Lakers playoff games. Morris, in a limited role, is shooting 44.7% from 3-point range this postseason.
Their two bigs, McGee and Howard, have taken turns starting at centre depending on the matchup. As of late, it's been the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year Howard, who's efforts don't always show up in the stat sheet, but he's provided energy on the defensive end and on the glass, as well as a lob target for elite passers like James and Rondo.
So while the Lakers role players have taken a heap of criticism throughout the season and playoffs, their team-effort approach has gotten them this far - two wins away from a championship.
It's time to realize that as a group, they're doing everything James and Davis need for this team to win the NBA title.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.