Posted Jun 18 2010 9:53AM
LOS ANGELES -- Amazing how the human body works, how you can play in a series that goes seven games, and down to the final tense minute at that, and there's still enough energy left to celebrate madly.
Kobe Bryant can grab a court-length pass, allow the final seconds to tick away, tuck the ball under his armpit and then sprint around the floor, leaving sneaker marks. Ron Artest can go bonkers, as he is often accused of doing, and everyone would consider it a normal reaction. Andrew Bynum can go from teammate to teammate, leaping high and giving chest-bumps. Didn't he have a damaged knee? Did. Not. Matter.
"Caught up in the moment," as Kobe explained.
The Lakers put the wraps on another anticipated NBA Finals showdown with the Celtics, and while it wasn't a masterpiece -- more like Picasso peppered with pimples -- it was, in the words of coach Phil Jackson, done.
"It wasn't well done," he acknowledged. "But it was done."
Yes, after losing all four of their previous Game 7s against a Celtics franchise that had bedeviled them in decades past, the Lakers finally passed the test, or rather, the Ar-Test to clinch their second straight championship.
Lakers 83, Celtics 79 was done with Kobe, sloppy and confused, missing 18 of 24 shots and fumbling passes and by the third quarter being fitted for goat horns while flirting with infamy. It was done with Pau Gasol blowing free throws. It was done with the Celtics, showing commendable grit and determination, outplaying the Lakers for 3 ½ quarters. It was done with Ron Artest, brought to the Lakers controversially last offseason for this very moment, carrying the club offensively while giving spirited defense. And it was done when the better team and the finer player simply found a way.
It's championship No. 5 for Kobe, which brings him one shy of Michael Jordan and also gives him as he playfully put it, "one more than Shaq. He can take that to the bank." His troublesome night shifted suddenly and permanently at the 5-minute mark. Kobe's two free throws, followed by a soft jumper, put the Lakers up for good.
"It's whatever it takes to win a game," he said. "That's my job. You've got to figure out a way to help your team win, and nobody was better at that than MJ."
It's also No. 11 for Jackson, the most decorated coach in NBA history. He was non-committal about returning next season although he just gained leverage in upcoming contract talks, should he need a sledgehammer. Jackson has also expressed weariness about the grind and the pace, and raised health concerns. But he does have Kobe and Gasol, two good reasons to put retirement on hold.
"To have put in 114 games and coming out this way at the end, there's a certain sense of gratification," Jackson said.
And this is the first for Artest, the quirky forward whose 20 points and five steals made it possible to celebrate on the floor, and later in the post-game press conference, where he thanked everyone, even a box of Wheaties (don't ask).
"In a game that could go either way, I asked myself, 'What did I get myself into?" Artest said. "But you want to be good in those moments. I want to win. I trusted myself."
These are the 2010 Lakers, with a superstar in Kobe, a skillful big man in Gasol, surrounded by all the necessary pieces such as Lamar Odom and choreographed neatly by Jackson. They won't be categorized as one of the best teams in NBA history -- not even close -- just one game better than the next team. Or more accurately, six minutes better.
The only surprise about the back-to-back feat was how it was done despite Bynum playing with one leg. Otherwise, Kobe was understandably massive in the postseason, Gasol once again rode a perfect shotgun for the third year in a row, and all the other Lakers chipped in and played off those core players.
How will the 2010 Celtics be remembered? Fondly. Flawed, but fondly. After coughing and wheezing into the postseason, they found their gear and groove and pushed the Lakers to the limit. Their defense perplexed the Lakers through much of the series, especially in Game 7, played without starting center Kendrick Perkins. With Kobe misfiring and Kevin Garnett getting the best of Gasol and the lead swelling to 11, the Celtics had the Lakers reeling. But Father Time, perhaps, finally paid them an unwelcome visit in the final moments, their swagger sapped.
"We fought the good fight," said Ray Allen. "When people didn't believe in us, we stayed true to ourselves and made sure we came out and did our jobs every day. We didn't win the final game but we still have a lot of reasons to hold our heads high."
What the series also proved is how the Lakers and Celtics both deserved to be here. This wasn't an accidental meeting; it was an appropriate one. It had KG turning back the clock for the final three games and the Celtics playing in sync throughout the series. It had Kobe grabbing the MVP award with consistency (save for Game 7). You figure only the Celtics could shove the Lakers to the brink, and vice-versa. Seven games is enough evidence of that.
"It feels amazing to win a championship," Gasol said. "It definitely adds more when you beat Boston, especially considering the rivalry, the history of the franchises. It's the ultimate goal, the ultimate satisfaction."
The series itself wasn't the most poetic or the prettiest. But the final five minutes produced a suspenseful conclusion. And the celebration? That was easy to see, even through the fog created by purple-and-gold confetti.
"Dancing on the court," said Artest, "was better than I ever imagined."
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