The Lakers Are Champions of Basketball

60788023For the second straight year and 16th time in franchise history, the Lakers are champions of basketball.

Purple and gold confetti rained down from the STAPLES Center ceiling after a fantastically physical and intense NBA Finals Game 7, the Lakers defeating their most storied opponent, the Boston Celtics, in a game epitomizing L.A.’s collective heart and desire.

Down by as many as 13 points early in the third quarter, and shooting just 31 percent as a team, the Lakers would not be denied while outscoring Boston 30-22 in a dramatic fourth quarter full of massive plays en route to an 83-79 final.

“We did it with perseverance,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, earning his unbelievable 11th coaching title. “It’s about the joy for this group of guys that put so much work (in). They’re a willing group and I’m very proud of them and very happy for them.”

60787939L.A.’s two biggest stars, second-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, made only 10-of-34 shots through three quarters in part because they were pressing, they “wanted it so bad,” before ultimately using Jackson’s long-told edict of staying in the moment to combine for 19 points and 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter.

Bryant, pushing so hard to earn his fifth title that he nearly pushed himself into the ground, made just 6-of-24 shots but nailed a big jumper with five minutes to play to give L.A. its first degree of breathing room all game (four points), flew around on defense, hit 8-of-9 fourth quarter free throws and attacked the glass with fury, grabbing 15 rebounds including four in the final minutes.

“I had to do something,” said Bryant. “I had to rebound the ball. Whatever it takes to win the game. That’s my job. Sometimes your shot’s not going to fall and you have to figure it out.”

Speaking of rebounding … Gasol was an absolute Catalan monster, ripping down 18 boards, including nine on the offensive glass, helping L.A. control the backboards by a margin of 53-40.

“We had to play with our hearts, leave it all out there,” said Gasol, who’s been to the Finals in all three of his seasons with the Lakers. “We fought extremely hard. We kept our minds and our hearts in the game at all times.”

Right there with the Mamba and the Spaniard was the man Jackson called the “most valuable player tonight,” Ron Artest, who scored 20 points with five rebounds and five steals including a monumental three-pointer with 1:01 left in the game.

“He brought life to our team,” said Jackson. “He brought life to the crowd.”

60788151Jackson, taking the podium alongside NBA commissioner David Stern, Lakers legend Magic Johnson, owner Dr. Jerry Buss and his team, stated that L.A. may not have been able to do it without what was a remarkable level of support from its fans.

The energy in the building, as the Lakers noted to a man, helped inspire a ridiculous effort on the offensive boards that kept L.A. in a game in which they not only shot only 32.5 percent from the field, but missed 12 free throws.

“We had 23 offensive rebounds,” echoed Jackson, impressed. “It’s just about being persistent and aggressive, getting extra shots. That’s what we did tonight.”

That, and the big plays in crunch time.

Among the late moments that inspired particularly raucous noise levels was a pull-up three-pointer from Derek Fisher, who tied the game at 64 with 6:12 to play. The Lakers would not trail again.

In retrospect, it was particularly poignant moment for Fisher, the team’s emotional and vocal leader, to produce for his team down the stretch for the second time in the Finals (remember Game 3 in Boston?). As big as that shot was, perhaps more important to his team was yet another inspirational on-court speech heading into the final quarter.

Bryant was happy to relay the contents of Fisher’s verbal offerings after saying that there “weren’t enough words of praise” that he could use to describe how he felt about his co-captain.

“Guys we have 12 minutes to dig down, get back in this game,” said Fisher through Bryant. “Everything we worked hard for, we have 12 minutes to put it together.”

That’s exactly what they did.

The result, of course, was the sweetest of all things for an athlete.

A championship.

60788872POSTGAME NUMBERS
5 Championships for Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Bryant also earned his second straight Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy behind averages of roughly 28 points, eight boards and four assists in the series, including 23 points and 15 rebounds in Game 7.

16 NBA Championships for the Lakers’ franchise, including two straight.

20 Points for Ron Artest, none bigger than a dagger three-pointer from the wing, off Bryant’s pass, with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter to put the Lakers up 79-73. His fellow Queens, N.Y., native Lamar Odom saved his best play for the second half, during which he scored six of seven points and grabbed five of seven rebounds.

23 Offensive rebounds for the Lakers, led by Pau Gasol’s remarkable nine (of his 17), by far a high for the playoffs and helping the team overcome the following number…

32.5 L.A.’s shooting percentage in the game. The Lakers also missed 12 free throws, but hit 16-of-21 in the deciding fourth quarter, led by Bryant’s 8-of-9.