Wednesday, June 12
Updated: June 13, 6:12 PM ET
Lakers bench puts its stamp on Game 4 win
By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the Lakers prepare for another championship parade, it's worth visiting the last one. Just before it started, the Lakers held a team meeting in which assistant coach Tex Winter made an emotional speech.
"Without Shaq or Kobe, we wouldn't be here," he said. "But without everyone else, we wouldn't be here, either."
He can make that same speech again ---and mean it. In fact, considering how back-up forward Mark Madsen choked up recounting it, maybe the Lakers' four-peat chances begin there.
"It got to everybody," Madsen said. "That is the true definition of a team." Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal once again did the heavy lifting as the Lakers closed out the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night to complete the first Finals' sweep in the franchise's vaunted history and completed the three-peat. That was pretty much expected.
If there was a grace note of surprise to the occasion, it came from the bench mob, which made an unqualified positive contribution for the first time in the series. This being the same bench mob that served as such a consistent drag on the Lakers' performance one assistant referred to them as "mistake" players,
Better late than never. Better late as ever, too.
"Not too many people get this chance, not only to win a championship but to contribute," said Samaki Walker, who knocked down a pair of free throws and set a nice pick to free Bryant for a three-point play in his five minutes of relief work. Walker also incurred a five-second violation for not inbounding the ball in time, but if that leaves Samaki's contribution square it's an improvement over his previous efforts.
No reserve did more than Devean George, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes, somehow working around a errant shooting elbow to bury three of four 3-pointers.
George also delivered one of the game's early defining moments when Derek Fisher missed a 3-pointer. George ripped the ball out of the hands of Nets center Jason Collins, resulting in another Fisher attempt that found the mark and assured the Lakers of a 58-57 halftime lead.
This was George's third trip to the finals but the first in which he did more than wave a towel from the sideline.
"When you're out there, you feel like you actually did something for the win," George said. "But it was helpful to sit on the sidelines and go through the battles that way. I knew what it takes and I know coach's philosophy. I was trying to force shots earlier in the series. Tonight I just let it fly."
George is a free agent and the Lakers need to have someone challenging Walker for minutes if they hope to make another title run, but Jackson deserves credit for getting what he did out of them. He started Walker and Lindsey Hunter most of the season and got George into every game for an average of 21 minutes off the bench. They paid him back in Game 4.
It was the other way around for Jackson and Mitch Richmond.
Jackson repaid Richmond for quietly slogging through an entire season with almost no run -- 11 minutes a night is brutal for a guy who previously averaged 37 -- by letting him play the final 84 seconds. That was enough time for Richmond to bury a 16-foot jumper and feel as if, in some small way, he earned his ring.
"I hope to be back and have a much bigger role," Richmond said. "I understand why I didn't this year. He goes with his guys. I just feel like I'm one of his guys now."
No matter where George, Samaki and Richmond end up, they can all feel that way.