Grumpy Kobe Equals World Championship for Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- They know they have to win on Thursday night at Staples Center, so they will. Just like they knew they had to win their home game on Tuesday night, and they did. Which is to say the Los Angeles Lakers' rumbling, bumbling, stumbling way during a two-game losing streak in these NBA Finals was a fluke.
Which is to say the Lakers' bench really isn't that bad.
Which is to say Pau Gasol isn't spooked anymore by that old postseason ghost of Kevin Garnett, and the Zen Master remains a Tweak Master, and Staples Center hasn't lost its potency for the home team.
Which is to say the Boston Celtics haven't an obsessed Kobe of a chance of winning Game 7 here on Thursday night.
The man still hasn't smiled, which is to say Kobe Bryant won't jettison the scowl he has worn since the start of the playoffs until the Lakers officially seal their back-to-back world championships. He expects to win, because he demands it. In fact, somebody asked Bryant about word that he flashed a grin or something in the locker room before the Lakers steamrolled their way to an 89-67 victory over the Celtics on Tuesday night in Game 6.
Were you loose and confident?
"Yeah," Bryant said, curtly, and not because he was burned out after continuing as the ultimate hustling machine for 39 minutes and 37 seconds along the way to 26 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. He just chooses to be ornery these days -- you know, until he gets exactly what he wants. And you know what he wants.
Now it's here: Game 7. Celtics-Lakers.
The chance for Kobe to prove -- once and for all -- that Shaq wasn't the only Batman on this Los Angeles team during its run to three world championships earlier in his career.
With teeth nearly clenched, Bryant reflected on it all, starting with the Lakers forcing a Game 7, saying, "No, the opportunity is not something that makes me happy. It's winning and taking advantage of the opportunity that makes me happy. That buzzer goes off, and we're not victorious, am I thankful for the opportunity? Nope."
The point is, Bryant and the rest of the Lakers are channeling their inner Vince Lombardi ("Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing"), which means they have that championship mindset again.
They just won't admit it.
Neither will the Celtics, because they can't tell the truth about their suddenly rejuvenated foes.
Instead, Celtics coach Doc Rivers hinted he fears the Lakers have returned as the Lakers when he reflected on Game 6. "They were terrific," Rivers said. "They cut harder ... I just thought their movement, their trust -- you know, I think most people, and I will say not us, but I think most people assumed that Kobe would come out and take 1,000 shots, and I thought he did the exact opposite."
Bryant did, because he had help. He had Ron Artest ousting his offensive struggles in the series by arriving early for shooting and more shooting. In the end, Artest had 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers to help the Lakers remain explosive throughout the evening.
Then Bryant had Gasol, who was embarrassed in the NBA Finals two years ago by Garnett. Despite early success against KG in this series, Gasol regressed, but he flourished in Game 6 by complementing his 17 points with 13 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks.
More impressive, Bryant had that bench, which he also will have Thursday night since Rivers joined Zen Master and Lakers coach Phil Jackson in delivering a fact for the ages: benches have a tendency to perform better at home than on the road.
The Lakers' bench is at home for Game 7.
You can expect nothing less on Thursday night than what the Lakers bench did on Tuesday night: Splendid outside shooting from Sasha Vujacic, torrid rebounding from Lamar Odom (and a slew of points as well), productive minutes from Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar -- and even the likes of Josh Powell and Luke Walton.
That Lakers' bench even outscored the supposedly vastly superior one of Boston, 15-0, at halftime. "The energy and the direction they had was what I was pleased with," said Jackson, who demanded they did as much after several of their lackluster efforts earlier in the series. "I felt like they were directed, and they had an idea what they wanted to get accomplished out there on the floor. That was important."
Added Rivers, "Bench players are typically more comfortable at home, and stars play well everywhere."
Stars like Kobe, for instance.
That said, it was a nice run for the Celtics, especially the way they resuscitated their regular season down the stretch after a combination of injuries, listlessness and old age. Plus, it was impressive they began the playoffs by keeping LeBron James as a wannabe regarding true greatness (translated: He still lacks a world championship).
The Celtics also shoved Dwight Howard deeper into LeBron territory (translated: He also lacks a world championship) by reaching the NBA Finals, where they looked pathetic in the opener but recovered to take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of this best-of-seven series.
It's just that, when it comes to Game 7, the Lakers will have Kobe and a bunch of complementary folks on a mission -- which is to say the Lakers will have Kobe and Jack smiling at the end.