It wasn’t the prettiest story, but it turned out to be a beautiful ending for the Los Angeles Lakers. Trailing by 13 points in the second half, the Lakers battled back in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to beat the Boston Celtics, 83-79, and claim their second consecutive NBA championship.

Underneath the bright lights and big stage of what was billed as a classic game, Los Angeles withstood a 32 percent shooting night by outrebounding the Celtics, 53-40. The Lakers owned the glass for the majority of the night, evidenced by Pau Gasol’s 18 rebounds and Kobe Bryant’s 15 rebounds.

Boston held Los Angeles to just 53 points going into the fourth quarter before Bryant and Gasol combined for 19 points to help outscore Boston 30-23 in the final quarter. Bryant scored 10 points in the quarter, but relinquished his familiar role of hero to the unfamiliar hands of Ron Artest. Artest, who struggled throughout the Finals, added 20 points, five rebounds and five steals and hit a key three-pointer with 60 seconds left to put the Lakers up 79-73.

While Bryant had carried the Lakers at times throughout the series, it was Artest and Gasol who pushed the now five-time NBA champion to victory. Bryant struggled offensively for much of the night, shooting 6-of-24, and turned the ball over four times. With his jump shot betraying him, the 2010 Finals MVP turned his efforts to the glass in order to make sure the Lakers were able to collect their 16th championship.

“I had to do something,” Bryant told reporters, holding his two daughters in each arm. “I had to rebound the ball. Whatever it takes to win the game. You got to do whatever it takes to win. You have to do something.”

Gasol did everything at times for Los Angeles, finishing with 19 points, four assists and two blocks in addition to his game-high rebounding performance. The multi-skilled Spaniard again dominated his matchup with Boston forward Kevin Garnett, as he’s done repeatedly throughout the Finals. Gasol outrebounded Garnett 81-27 in the series and his nine offensive rebounds in Game 7 were key considering how poorly Los Angeles shot the ball. Gasol was seen crying tears of joy as the post-game confetti dropped, but it’s the Celtics who may be crying tears of regret long into the summer.

“There’s a lot of crying in that locker room,” Boston coach Doc Rivers told reporters. “A lot of people who care. I don’t think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That’s a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared.”

Boston played suffocating defense through the game’s first three quarters before wilting in the later moments of the final quarter. The Celtics allowed just 34 points in the first half before giving up 49 in the second. Paul Pierce led Boston with 18 points and 10 rebounds but struggled shooting the ball, as did teammate and free agent-to-be Ray Allen. Allen shot just 3-of-14 on the night and missed several wide open shots. Besides setting a Finals record with eight three-pointers in game two, Allen finished his second Finals appearance shooting 36 percent from the field and 20 percent from behind the arc.

“We were scratching and clawing, trying to do everything we could to try to pull this out,” Allen told reporters. “We had an opportunity to win, but it just didn’t go our way down the stretch. There were a lot of tears (after the game inside the locker room), a lot of tears.”

With the Celtics vanquished and the Lakers now one championship away from tying Boston’s franchise record, the focus will shift toward the return of Los Angeles head coach Phil Jackson, whose contract expired at the conclusion of Game 7. Jackson has been rumored to be in the hunt to take over as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and possibly LeBron James, next season.

But Jackson, who improved his coaching record to 48-0 when his team wins the first game of a playoff series, won’t be an easy asset to retain after winning his fifth championship as Lakers head coach and 11th overall. Jackson will likely command top dollar next year wherever he lands, but for the moment, Jackson made it clear he’ll enjoy this title for a while before deciding.

“I’ve got to take a deep breath. I’ve got to take some time to think about this,” Jackson said. “This was great. I’ll wait to make that decision in a week.”

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO