June 18, 2010
"It's done," Phil Jackson said after his Lakers won their second consecutive title on Thursday night.
"It wasn't well done," he clarified, "but it was done."
Jackson was onto something. Because while Game 7 of the NBA Finals may have been the most highly anticipated contest since Michael Jordan's time spent with the Chicago Bulls, the final game of the NBA's season was hardly a free-flowing affair. Both the Lakers and the gutty Boston Celtics were dragging throughout, fatigue was clearly a factor for both sides, and the numbers reflected that.
Los Angeles shot 32.5 percent from the floor, a startlingly poor number for any team, much less a team that ended up winning a contest, and hardly a number you'd expect from a group clinching an NBA championship. Kobe Bryant(notes) was suffering through a terrible game until he started to get to the line in the fourth quarter, and his Boston counterpart in Ray Allen(notes) couldn't buy a bucket for most of the contest.
The Celtics actually worked with a lead for most of Game 7, playing standout defense and even putting together a double-digit cushion in the third quarter. Kevin Garnett(notes) (17 points) got to the rim against Pau Gasol(notes), in spite of some early foul trouble, but Boston's initial burst was a team-wide success. And far from pretty.
And not nearly enough.
Because Bryant was able to stem the tide by earning a three-shot shooting foul on Ray Allen in the fourth quarter. Derek Fisher(notes) returned from a tweaked right knee to nail a clutch 3-pointer to tie it a few minutes later, and a weary Celtics team just could not find ways to score down the stretch.
And though Bryant was finally able to work his way into finishing as Los Angeles' leading scorer (scoring 10 points on eight free throws in the fourth quarter), it was Laker forwards Ron Artest(notes) and Pau Gasol who turned the tide for the two-time champions.
It seemed as if every time Gasol got the ball in the post, something good happened. The Laker big man struggled with his shooting percentages (the result of a few missed tip-ins), as well, but finished with nine points, six rebounds (three offensive), two assists and a block in the fourth quarter, on his way toward a 19-point, 18-rebound, four-assist, two-block evening.
And the benefit of some of Gasol's dishes? The much-maligned Ron Artest, whom Phil Jackson called "the most valuable player, tonight."
Artest finished Game 7 with 20 points and five steals, and Jackson credited him postgame with giving "life to our team, life to our crowd."
In a, well, Artest-styled news conference that saw the first-time champion credit, among others, his psychiatrist, Jeff Foster(notes) and Kobe Bryant, Artest stopped with the goofy long enough to tell the press that he "trusted himself, tonight."
Artest continued. "Today is one of those days where I trusted in myself and I didn't settle for some shots. I kind of at the right time did exactly what [Jackson] wanted me to do."
More than "kind of," as Artest's timely buckets were the answer to several Boston runs.
Jackson also credited Fisher's 3-pointer with the game's turning point. "The real play," the Lakers coach said after the win, "that I thought was a play that kind of changed and gave us that renewed energy was Pau coming off the post and hitting Fisher, and Fisher hitting the 3-point shot to bring the game back to a tie."
Rivers also called it "the biggest single shot in the game."
The overall story, with Celtics center Kendrick Perkins(notes) sitting out with a torn MCL and PCL, was Los Angeles' dominance on the glass. It started early, with Gasol grabbing five offensive boards in the opening minutes, and sustained until the end, as Gasol wrested an offensive carom away from Rajon Rondo(notes) to help put the Celtics away.
"We had to work extremely hard," Gasol pointed out, "to get those boards, pursue them, to get opportunities, because we weren't shooting the ball well. We were rushing a little bit."
Jackson was asked how his team managed to win despite such poor shooting.
"We had 23 offensive rebounds. That's how you do it. I think we had 11 turnovers. That's another way you do it."
"We were just active," Gasol continued. "Twenty-three offensive rebounds, you don't see that very often, but it just tells how much we wanted this and how much will and determination we put into this."
The Celtics, to their credit, came within 12 minutes of what would have been one of the more remarkable title runs in NBA history. But as great as the team's defense was, it was no match for Los Angeles when the Lakers deigned to move the ball. That doesn't mean the Celtics didn't leave it all on the court.
"I told my guys," Doc Rivers said after the defeat, "I couldn't be prouder of the group that I've been around.
"There's a lot of crying in our locker room, 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. That means everybody cared.
"I can't stress enough," Rivers continued, "how crazy-close this team was. That would be the word; ‘crazy-close.'"
It was Los Angeles' night, though. Crazy-close though the C's may be, Phil Jackson's crew had all the answers for a Celtics team that just couldn't finish it off. The Lakers coach might not be shedding a tear as he earns his 13th ring as a player and coach ("I frequently cry," Jackson said postgame, "but not tonight"), but he clearly appreciates what his team went through to grab its second straight championship.
"We tax these guys," Jackson pointed out. "We make them go through all kinds of difficult things during the course of the year, ask them to play injured, ask them to play with injuries, and they're a willing group and I'm very proud of them, and very happy for them.
"I think," he continued, "that's really the joy. To have put in 114 games and coming out this way at the end? There's a certain sense of gratification."
And a certain trophy, too, which the Lakers have become quite accustomed to earning at this point.