1. Lakers Capture Franchise Title No. 16
LOS ANGELES -- It was the Lakers' court but the Celtics' terms, a game that was as artistic as a tic-tac-toe board. If the Lakers were to prevail in these 2010 NBA Finals and beat their age-old rival in a Game 7 for the first time, they would have to be resolute, determined, tough.
That meant Pau Gasol had to get physical in the paint. It meant Kobe Bryant had to find a way when he couldn't simply out-spectacular everyone else on the court. It meant Ron Artest had to make the Celtics pay when their defensive strategy openly dared him to beat them.
And somehow, when more things seemed to go wrong than right, with a deficit that grew to 13 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, the Lakers found a way to win in a decidedly un-Lakerlike fashion, emerging with an 83-79 victory that came within 17 points of the lowest combined Finals score in the shot-clock era.
Except for Artest (and boy, was he exceptional Thursday night) this wasn't about the Lakers establishing their ability to win a championship, it was about removing any of the qualifying descriptions. This was about validation and eradication. It can't be said that these latest Lakers have not beaten the Celtics. It can't be said that Gasol shrinks at the sight of green jerseys. And, amazingly, it can't be said that Phil Jackson ever coaches one-hit wonders. This is the fourth time one of his teams has won a championship, then followed it with at least one more. That might even be enough to help him keep his job next season.
In case you haven't learned from the previous 10 championships, the man can coach. At the podium, sporting a championship cap with a golden T-shirt replacing the dress shirt and tie under his blue suit, he even sounded apologetic for how much his staff coaches.
"We tax these guys," Jackson said. "We make them go through all kinds of difficult things through the course of the year."
If the coaches taxed them, the Celtics put them through a grueling audit of their past three years of returns.
It was as if the Lakers had to verify the authenticity of the 2009 championship. Suddenly that victory over the Orlando Magic didn't seem to mean as much after watching the Magic fall to the Celtics in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, losing the first two games at home in the process. And after the Celtics' defense tightened the vise in Games 4 and 5, holding the Lakers below 90 points both times, and Andrew Bynum's injured right knee rendered him almost as ineffective as when he missed the 2008 Finals with a previous injury.
But the Lakers came back home and won two games. Gasol erased the old tags with 19 points and 18 rebounds, including nine points and six rebounds as the Lakers completed the comeback in the fourth quarter. Yes, he did it with Kendrick Perkins sidelined, but he can also claim a 23-point, 14-rebound effort with Perkins in the lineup in the series opener.
"We've grown as a team, we've grown as individuals, and obviously it shows," Gasol said. "Back-to-back championships is something pretty tough to do."
They did it. As Jackson said, "It wasn't well done, but it was done. And we did it with perseverance."
The Celtics demanded it from them. If the Celts had to go into the deciding game without Perkins, their burly center who sprained ligaments in his right knee in Game 6, then they would make the Lakers suffer as well. They hounded the Lakers into 33 percent shooting for the game, forced the Lakers to retrieve 23 offensive rebounds in order to get their points.
Somebody will come across the box score and think this was one of the more hideous championship games ever decided. The numbers won't convey the tension felt by everyone who watched, regardless of their rooting interest or even impartiality. The digits can't capture the reputations on the line, or the desire each side felt in a rivalry that has been pulled out of the dusty archives and displayed in vivid high-def during the 13 Finals games these two teams have played in the past three years.
Bryant called it "epic."
"It was a big challenge," he said, and thus the most satisfying of his five championships.
Lamar Odom actually appreciated the Celtics for making it so difficult.
"It was so hard," he said. "I respect those guys so much. They made us work."
You could see the toll when the clock stopped at 25.7 seconds remaining and mercifully gave the players a break. Bryant had missed a 3-pointer but Gasol grabbed the rebound and threw it back to him, and Bryant charged into the lane for a rare drive to the basket that drew a blocking foul on Rasheed Wallace. Gasol wanted to come over and share the moment -- a high-five was certainly in order -- but Bryant retreated to the backcourt and doubled over, trying to regain his breath and gather himself before he stepped to the free throw line and knocked down both to put the Lakers ahead by five points again.
Bryant said his tank was on empty in this game, that "the more I tried to push, the more it kept getting away from me." He admitted he wanted so badly to make his mark on this game that he was trying too hard, resulting in fallaway 3-pointers over two defenders from the baseline, and a shooting line that evoked John Starks' 2-for-18 in Game 7 of the 1994 Finals.
Watching Bryant miss 11 of 14 shots in the first half caught the attention of a certain M. Jordan. That would be Marcus Jordan, Michael's son, who tweeted, "NO ONE...And I mean NO ONE should EVER [compare] kobe Bryant to my dad an say that he is anywhere near close to my dad."
Bryant recovered just enough to hit one jumper and eight free throws in the fourth quarter. It was a decidedly un-Jordanlike performance in what could have been an image-altering game. But he adopted the Lakers' new gritty mindset and grabbed a Finals career-high 15 rebounds to help keep the Lakers in it when his shot wasn't falling.
And keep in mind that in Jordan's final championship game he did miss 20 shots -- but we think only of the one he made at the end.
Subjectively, this didn't help Bryant's attempt to topple Jordan from the pyramid of NBA greats. Numerically it put him within one of Jordan's six championship rings and tied him with Magic Johnson -- in addition to separating him from his old in-house rival, Shaquille O'Neal.
"One more than Shaq's more special to me, to be honest with you," Bryant said. "Tied with Magic means I can have dinner with him."
They can sit at the penta-champions table while others convene a free-agent summit this summer.
Bryant was the winner of the Bill Russell Finals Most Valuable Player Award, but the consensus among the Lakers was that Artest was the MVP of this Game 7.
He finished with the most field goals among them -- seven -- and made 4 of 5 free throws (after shooting 55 percent from the line during the playoffs) to give him 20 points. On defense he came up with five steals and helped hold Paul Pierce to 5-for-15 shooting.
Artest was the only Laker without a championship, so to see him blow kisses to the fans who only two weeks ago had implored him not to shoot, thank his psychiatrist in the on-court interview, then share the victors' stage with the commissioner who banished him for the rest of the season after he rumbled in the stands in 2004 was a reward in itself.
He clutched the Larry O'Brien Trophy for a long time as he sat in his corner of the Lakers' locker room, surrounded by his family, rambling almost incoherently.
He gathered himself to do a round of interviews, concluding in the main media room by saying:
"I just have to thank Coach Jackson for having me and Kobe and the Lakers for giving me this opportunity and I'm really, really just enjoying this and I just can't wait to get to the club."
In Los Angeles, the most exclusive club is usually the one with the longest line, surliest bouncers and the tightest guest lists. As of Thursday there's a new standard: It's the club you enter by getting past the Boston Celtics.
J.A. Adande is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
2. Celtics Can't Finish Off Lakers In Game 7
LOS ANGELES -- As the Boston Celtics' team bus pulled out of the Staples Center loading dock, the darkened windows did not completely hide the glum, gloomy faces of the team that was the better of the two for three-plus quarters of Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Can't tell you exactly how many of them were looking out those windows, but any of the folks on the right side of the bus who did peer outside would have seen Ron Artest's peeps holding up a No. 37 jersey, taunting those bus-borne Celtics while wearing sly, silly smiles on their faces.
This one hurt in so many ways for Boston, and getting taunted on the way out of the arena certainly didn't make it sting any less.
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3. Wallace Heads To Refs' Locker Room
LOS ANGELES -- As Celtics coach Doc Rivers sat at the podium suggesting Rasheed Wallace might have played his final game of his career on Thursday, the 15-year veteran stood outside the locker room of the game officials trying to talk to a group which has been intertwined with much of his career.
It wasn't clear if he was trying to discuss the calls that went against Boston in its Game 7 loss to the Lakers in the NBA Finals or just say goodbye to a couple of veteran officials.
Wallace exited the Boston locker room before it opened to the media and navigated his way toward the team bus before diverting to the officials' locker room nearby. He managed to open the door and talk with an unidentified person behind the door, before arena and NBA security ushered him back out.
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4. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's game -- all in Daily Dime Live.
5. Extreme Behavior
Ron Artest, Lakers
With Kobe Bryant struggling, Ron-Ron was there to pick up the pieces, scoring 20 huge points and providing his trademark tough defense (five steals). He also added a quote of the night candidate, "Well, first of all I want to thank everybody in my hood. I definitely want to thank my doctors ... my psychiatrist, she really helped me relax a lot."
Ray Allen, Celtics
Known for his sweet outside shooting, he made just 3 of 14 attempts from the floor for the Celtics, who had two games to close out the Lakers and came up short on the road both times.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"Just got one more than Shaq. You can take that to the bank. You know how I am. I don't forget anything."
-- Kobe Bryant when asked what winning another NBA title means to him individually
One For The Thumb
Finals MVP Kobe Bryant was on top of the world after winning his fifth NBA championship ring.
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Rebounding The Key For Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- It was fitting that an offensive rebound provided what proved to be the title-clinching play. And it was equally fitting that all the basketball gods made a mockery of all our nonstop chatter about individual legacies when a team-wide Lakers effort won them Game 7 in spite of, rather than because of, their best player.
All night long, the Lakers had battled to overcome a mystifying inability to shoot straight by sheer brute force, grabbing 23 of their own misses and maintaining possession four other times on balls knocked out of bounds.
So when Kobe Bryant forced a long 3 under duress with 28 seconds left, it was only natural that Pau Gasol -- for the ninth time -- came down with it. Gasol held off Rajon Rondo for the rebound, passed it back out to Bryant at the free throw line, and then Bryant drove the lane to draw a foul.
Had Boston secured the rebound, it would have had the ball with a chance to tie and send the game to overtime. Instead, Bryant's free throws put the Lakers up 81-76, and the Celtics never had the ball with a chance to tie again.
It all started when the Lakers caught Boston in a bad matchup coming upcourt. Kevin Garnett ended up guarding Derek Fisher in the left corner, leaving Rondo frantically trying to switch men with Rasheed Wallace and Paul Pierce. He ended up on Gasol near the foul line as the Celtics went to trap Bryant in a pick-and-roll, and then as the shot went up, under the rim. Rondo had inside position, but being a foot shorter proved problematic. Gasol reached up with one arm, held Rondo off with the other, and claimed the rebound near the baseline.
"We were trying to trap and we got caught," said Rivers. "I thought Rondo boxed him out. He went over his back, but they're not going to call that with the size advantage."
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9. Lakers Run Down Celtics
The Lakers became the first team in NBA history to win the championship after having trailed going into the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Finals. The Celtics led 57-53 entering the fourth quarter of Thursday night's game.
The Lakers had trailed by 13 points early in the third quarter. Coincidentally, the last team that won the NBA Finals in a Game 7 -- the 2005 Spurs -- also did it by overcoming a 13-point deficit, although in that game, the Pistons had led by 13 points in the first quarter.
Pau Gasol collected nine offensive rebounds in Game 7, lifting his total to 35 during the series against Boston. That's the third-highest total of offensive rebounds in a Finals series since the NBA began recording offensive rebounds in the 1973-74 season; Moses Malone had 46 in six games in 1981 and Dennis Rodman had 41 in six games in 1996.