Lakers Rally Past Celtics for NBA Title
In a contest that looked at times like it could have gone either way, Game 7 of the NBA Finals did not disappoint.
The Celtics jumped out to a nine-point lead after the first quarter, and held onto a six-point advantage at the half, with a score of 40-34 in their favor clearly showing that Boston was having its way. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant were a combined 6 of 26 from the field, and the Lakers were shooting just 26.5 percent.
Boston extended its lead to as many as 13 in the third period, and it was looking like the cold shooting that the Lakers were experiencing would never be solved. Unfortunately for the Celtics, they weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard either, and it eventually caught up to them.
The Celtics managed just seven points in the first eight plus minutes of the fourth quarter, while the Lakers attacked on seemingly every possession and got to the free throw line, where they made enough shots to build a lead they'd never relinquish. But L.A. did anything but run away with this one in the closing minutes. For all the offensive excitement that the game lacked through its first 46 minutes, the teams made up for it in the final minute and a half. Coming out of a timeout with the Lakers leading 76-70, Rasheed Wallace drained a long three-pointer to cut the Lakers' lead to three in the blink of an eye.
Ron Artest then answered on the other end from distance, but then Ray Allen hit another three to keep Boston alive. Kobe tried to answer yet again on the other end, but his attempt went left off the iron. Pau Gasol grabbed the offensive rebound, and fed Bryant for a drive to the basket that earned him a trip to the free throw line. Bryant made both, putting the Lakers back up by five with 18 seconds left.
Rajon Rondo hit a three-pointer coming out of the timeout, and it was a two-point game with 13 seconds remaining. Phil Jackson inserted seldom-used Sasha Vujacic into the lineup for the final seconds, and of course, the ball ended up in his hands -- the Celtics fouled and put him on the line with an NBA title possibly in the balance.
Vujacic made both free throws, and Phil Jackson now has 11 championship rings.
Hero of the Day
Ron Artest was the difference-maker for the Lakers from the beginning, hustling on defense, grabbing steals, and making a high percentage of his shots when the rest of the team struggled mightily against Boston's stifling defense. He was the glue guy that kept things together even when the worst was feared for L.A. and their fans as their team faced a double digit second half deficit.
But while Artest was the main man, the way Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol performed down the stretch cannot be ignored. Bryant's 15 rebounds kept him engaged in the game on a night where his shot simply wasn't falling, and Gasol rebounded with force late in the game as well, finishing with 18 of his own, nine on the offensive end, answering once and for all any questions about his lack of toughness that have followed him throughout his career.
Once Derek Fisher hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 64 with a little more than six minutes to play, the Lakers could sense it. Five of the team's next seven possessions in which they scored came at the free throw line after aggressively attacking, and the other two came on buckets from Gasol inside and a jumper from Kobe on the wing. Once the championship was in reach, Bryant and Gasol would simply not let it slip away.
Outside the Box
No one's wildest dreams (or nightmares) would have had Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest as two of the most important players in Game 7. But they were, with Wallace being a factor early defensively, and Artest playing solidly all game long to (dare I say) lead the Lakers to the title for most of Game 7.
Key Coaching Decision
Not that Doc Rivers had much of a choice, but he started Rasheed Wallace in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins, and it set the tone for the Celtics early. Sheed defended well and helped limit Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol offensively early, and scored on his first couple of touches to make Gasol work on the defensive end.
Glen Davis stayed in his traditional role off the bench, and was able to score six points and grab two rebounds in five minutes during the opening period, contributing to Boston's strong start and helping the team get out to a nine-point lead after one.
You Had to Be There, Part 1
The scene in the area surrounding Staples Center was absolute insanity, even three hours before tipoff. Streets were blocked off in all directions, and every single bar, restaurant, and club had hundreds lined up outside hoping to see the game as close to the arena as possible.
The police were out in full force too, with cars, helicopters, and officers on foot patrol doing everything possible to let their presence be known in advance of any thoughts of trouble that might arise as the evening wore on. And by halftime, the LAPD had increased things even more, parking cars all the way up and down Chick Hearn Court in front of Staples Center.
You Had to Be There, Part 2
Both teams played very tight through most of the first half, and the building full of L.A. fans were just as nervous if not more so. Every time a Lakers shot went up -- usually contested, and usually late in the shot clock -- the arena fell silent, as the entire crowd collectively held its breath while awaiting the outcome.
Speaking of the fans, the saying that the real diehards are lurking up in the cheap seats was truer than ever in Game 7. In the very last row of the arena -- just below the upper level press box -- fans all the way around the building were on their feet from the opening tip until the game was decided. The rest of the arena joined in on the fun once the Lakers took the lead with just under six minutes remaining in the game.
You Had to Be There, Part 3
The "no rooting in the press box" rule was pretty much out the window for this one, as Lakers supporters to my right and Celtics supporters to my left were visibly living and dying with every possession, occasionally blurting out a four- or twelve-letter expletive and slamming the table when things didn't go particularly well for their side. This was especially true once the final buzzer sounded, when one gentleman begin clapping wildly and high-fiving the fans in section 315 below.