But if you’re looking for a microcosm moment to explain why the Lakers won the NBA finals Thursday night with an 83-79 triumph, you have a choice of two, both belonging to Pau Gasol.
With 1:30 remaining, Gasol powered into the paint for a layup against a thicket of three Celtics to put the Lakers ahead, 76-70. Then with 28 seconds left and the Lakers up by only three, Gasol fought for and secured a colossally vital offensive rebound off a Kobe Bryant miss, which eventually led to two free throws by Bryant and a five-point lead with just over 25 seconds remaining.
Think about what those plays mean in the context of the Ali-Frazier basketball that is the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Gasol was ripped for not being macho enough when the Lakers lost to Boston two years ago. He was subsequently chastised for failing to step up in Games 4 and 5 in Boston this season. And yet here he is, in the biggest game of all of their lives, flipping off the critics with his backbone.
The Lakers followed Gasol’s lead. This Game 7 clincher won’t hang in the Louvre — the Lakers shot 32 percent from the field, hideous even if you cut them slack for the pressure-packed circumstances — but they did what they needed to do.
“I mean, it’s very sweet, or it feels amazing to win a championship,” said Gasol, who finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds. “It definitely adds up when you beat Boston, especially the rivalry, the history of the franchises. Our individual and personal history of 2008.”
This was no ordinary repeat. Everybody involved downplayed the animus between these clubs in public, but it was there, as noticeable as purple and green corrosion. Bryant admitted as much afterward. “I was lying to you guys,” he said, flanked by his two young daughters. “It meant the world to me, but I couldn’t focus on it.”
When they chronicle the great Game 7s, this will be left off some lists because of style points. But that is missing the picture, because the Lakers-Celtics wars are about the competitive fire that engulfs both teams, not about beauty.
“Well, it’s done,” said Phil Jackson after he secured his 11th NBA championship as a head coach. “It wasn’t well done, but it was done. And we did it with perseverance.”
It is in the books in the Lakers’ favor despite the fact that Bryant and Gasol combined to shoot 6 for 26 in the first half, after which the Celtics led, 40-34. History will also show that the Lakers trailed by 13 with 8:24 left in the third period, and for Lakers fans at that point the proceedings had the terrorized feel of a home invasion robbery.
But the Lakers pulled a stylistic switcheroo. They turned up the defense, a Celtics staple. They made the key hustle plays, for which Boston is renowned. They “generated” offense, using Jackson’s term, which is what the Celtics have done many times this year when their vaunted Big Three — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen — seemed old and feeble and needed to grind out a victory.
“It was the most physical game we played,” Bryant said of Game 7. “They believed that they could beat us. … They weren’t going to beat themselves. We had to beat them.”
And like many times before, Derek Fisher came through. Big Swish Fish tied the game at 64 with 6:12 remaining with a three-pointer. “I guess I’m always in a mental space to make a play or do whatever I can to help win the game,” he explained.
Said Jackson: “That really changed the complexity of the game.”
Game 7 was supposed to be Kobe’s opportunity to set himself apart from Michael Jordan. After all, Jordan had never played in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and Jordan never had to deal with the Lakers-Celtics rivalry burden.
Bryant looked awful at times, especially in the first half. “I just wanted it so bad,” he said afterward.
Bryant wound up leading all scorers anyway with 23 points, but his 15 boards and defensive efforts on Rondo, Allen and helping elsewhere made the most impact.
There was also the whole Artest question in this championship equation. Was it the right move to dispatch Trevor Ariza and bring in Artest, given the latter’s much-chronicled cuckoo-bird tendencies?
Answer: Artest had 20 points and five steals in Game 7, played magnificent defense on Pierce throughout almost all the series (the Celtic forward was 5 of 15 Thursday for 18 points), and drained some humungous shots, including a trey with just about a minute remaining to cushion the Lakers’ lead back to six again.
“Ron Artest was the most valuable player tonight,” Jackson said. “He brought life to our team. He brought life to our crowd.”
He also helped slay a group of tormentors whose lead over the Lakers in championships is down to a measly one: 17-16.
That candor continued on the topic of beating the Celtics. “This one was the sweetest,” Bryant explained, “because it was the hardest.”
PBT: The Pacers defeated the Heat 97-93 in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1, which now shifts to Indiana.
Check out some of the best images from the 2010 NBA finals.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
DPS: Is it really all about the rings?
DPS: Dan Patrick talks about Phil Jackson's comments about starting a team with Bill Russell now because of his championships and brings up the great question of, if it's all about championships, how come we don't talk about guys like Sam Jones, Frank Ramsey or John Havlicek who all have multiple rings?
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