The Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions for a second straight year -- and the 16th time in franchise history. Last night at Los Angeles' Staples Center, the Lakers beat their archrivals the Boston Celtics 83-79 in a slugfest of a game that seemed at times more like football.
After hearing endlessly during the series, from both teams, about the importance of defense, the Lakers and Celtics played an all-out defensive classic. L.A. won its championship shooting a woeful 32.5 percent from the field. But for those who like their basketball rough and intense, this was a gem. The experience left Boston's Ray Allen deeply disappointed and drained.
"The air was thick, you know. It didn't get any thicker than that," Allen said after the game. "You had to find the best way you knew how to get stops and to just bowl your way to try and get to the basket."
But at halftime, Boston was ahead. Los Angeles had only 34 points.
Refusing To Fold
By the time Boston point guard Rajon Rondo extended the Celtics' lead to 11 points early in the third quarter, the Staples Center crowd -- 19,000 strong -- was restless. Boston was in control, and L.A.'s savior, Kobe Bryant, hardly was in savior mode. He was shooting the ball horribly, committing turnovers, fouling opponents. He explained later that he was on "E" -- as in "Empty."
"The more I tried to push, the more it kept getting away from me," Bryant said, "and I'm just glad that my teammates really got us back in the game. It was a tough one."
In particular, teammates Lamar Odom and Ron Artest played key roles in keeping the Lakers close. L.A. overcame a 13-point third-quarter deficit and pulled ahead in the fourth, but Boston refused to fold. It was 81-79 Lakers, with 11.7 seconds left, when L.A. reserve guard Sasha Vujacic went to the free-throw line. He had played only 4 1/2 minutes all night.
Vujacic swished the first shot for a 3-point lead, and then the second, making it 83-79. And that was it.
'It Meant The World'
Bryant had been grumpy, surly -- choose your term -- throughout the postseason. But last night, as expected, victory loosened his lips. In fact, it was as though Bryant had swallowed truth serum. He admitted that all the gruff stuff he had told reporters -- that he didn't care about Lakers vs. Celtics, the NBA's greatest rivalry through the years -- was a lie.
"You guys know what a student I am of the game," he said. "I mean, I know every series that the Lakers have played in. I was a Laker nut. And I know every Celtic series, I know every statistic. So, you know, it meant the world to me as well. But I couldn't focus on that. I had to focus on playing."
He tried -- and failed more often than not. He shot the ball 24 times and made only six baskets. But he sank key free throws near the end and grabbed a whopping 15 rebounds. He was named most valuable player of these hard-fought finals.
It's his fifth championship with the Lakers. And, not that anyone's counting his titles, but it appears he is -- particularly in comparison with his onetime teammate, center Shaquille O'Neal.
"I got one more than Shaq," he said. "So you can take that to the bank."
The Lakers, with their 16th title, now are just one shy of the NBA record -- held by the Boston Celtics. Thursday night, L.A. got some payback after having lost to Boston in the 2008 finals. Indeed, despite what the record book says, the Lakers hardly are feeling second best to anyone.