For a full calender year, the Los Angeles Lakers possessed a single, pervasive thought that permeated through the team’s collective brain…
Championship or bust.
After catching the title scent early in the second quarter of Sunday’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a 16-0 run, the Lakers sprinted away with the franchise’s 15th championship with an all-encompassing display of basketball.
Each and every player that stepped foot onto the Amway Arena floor wearing purple and gold offered something productive: Kobe Bryant nailed shots near and far from the basket; Pau Gasol swatted shots and defended Dwight Howard impressively; Lamar Odom sank corner threes and attacked the glass; Trevor Ariza swiped the ball and like Odom, buried triples; Derek Fisher made savvy plays and controlled the tempo; Andrew Bynum stood tall in the lane … And so on, and so forth.
No stat line was more impressive than that of Bryant, who put up 30 points, five assists, six boards and four blocks. But the net result of the total team effort was effectively what L.A. showed all year: They were too long, too strong, too deep and too skilled.
“It felt so good to be able to have this moment,” said Bryant, who fittingly won the Finals MVP award. “We tried not to envision it too much, you know what I mean, because you just get too excited. You try not to think about it, just think about playing the game, and for this moment to be here and to reflect back on the season and everything that you’ve been through, it’s top of the list, man.”
They won 65 regular season games, and got better as the playoffs rolled on, eliminating a tough Denver Nuggets squad with six straight dominant quarters and rolling the Magic in five games, winning their final two of 16 playoff contests on the road.
Their coach, Phil Jackson, who won an almost unbelievable 10th NBA Championship to pass the late Red Auerbach, talked not about himself but about his players after the dust settled.
I’d like to say that it’s really about the players; it’s about Kobe Bryant, about Derek Fisher’s leadership of the team. “I tried to take them through some of the build up things that we had to do last year as a basketball club. They came together this year and were self motivated, and for a coach that’s always a positive sign. When a team is ready, they’re aggressive, their learning curve is high, and they wanted to win. I’ve always felt as a coach you have to push your team, and I told them they had to push themselves. I wasn’t at the stage of my life where I could get out and do the things that I had done 10 years ago or 15 years ago to push a team. And they pushed themselves, and I really feel strongly that this is about them.
In their final contest, the Lakers first survived the inevitable first quarter back-against-the-wall charge that saw Orlando take a 15-6 lead with force, cutting the lead to just two as the quarter ended, and going off on a 23-10 run to close the first half up 56-46.
It was academic from there, the Lakers refusing to allow anything on defense in tacking five points onto the lead after the third quarter, up 76-61 heading into the final quarter en route to a championship.
If a dagger were even needed at that point, Bryant pulled up from three as if a defender (JJ Redick) weren’t right in his face, countering a Jameer Nelson three that had provided Amway Arena’s last grasp at survival. The Magic tried to mount a last gasp effort by hitting six threes in the fourth quarter, but never got closer than 11 points.
A championship had been won.
Check back later this week for an extensive season-ended “By The Numbers” column, but until then, only one matters:
NBA Title earned by the L.A. Lakers on Sunday, June 14 at Amway Arena in Orlando.