There for the taking, dream goes up in smoke
LOS ANGELES — Ugly doesn’t begin to describe it. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly choreographed by George Balanchine.
It was a brutal, ugly mess, which means it should have belonged to the Boston Celtics.
Nope, sorry. When it came time to put things in order, it was the Los Angeles Lakers who seized control, the Los Angeles Lakers who made the winning plays, and the Los Angeles Lakers who accepted the Lawrence O’Brien Trophy from commissioner David Stern.
“Well, it was done,’’ said Phil Jackson, coach of an NBA champion for an impressive 11th time. “It wasn’t well done, but it was done.’’
The Lakers are the champs for the second time in a row (16th overall), and they earned it. They found a way to win on a night when they shot 32.5 percent from the floor. They found a way to win on a night when they added to their offensive misery by missing 12 free throws. They found a way to win on a night when Kobe Bryant shot an un imaginable 6 for 24.
Yup, in Game 7 of the NBA Finals Kobe Bryant shot 6 for 24. Now he did have 15 rebounds, but they don’t pay him to rebound.
Despite all this, they did win after trailing at every checkpoint and coming from 13 down in the third quarter. The final was 83-79.
“Well, we had 23 offensive rebounds [good for 15 second-chance points],’’ pointed out Jackson. “We had 11 turnovers. That’s how you do it.’’
“It was exactly the kind of game we wanted,’’ sighed Doc Rivers, who may have coached his final game for Boston. “Fisher’s three was the biggest shot of the game, and Kobe’s three foul shots.’’
He was alluding, first of all, to a classically clutch and monstrous 3-pointer by nerveless veteran Derek Fisher, a shot that tied the game at 64-64 with 6:16 remaining. He had come into this game having not hit a three in the first six games, but he hit one for the opening Lakers basket of the night and then he hit what may very well be the last of many icy threes that have contributed to five Lakers championships. When someone writes the next Lakers history, there had damn well better be a chapter on Derek Fisher.
The three Kobe free throws in question came with Boston leading, 59-55, and in reasonable control. He lured Ray Allen into a foul that, following review, resulted in three freebies, and that really hurt.
LA won this game with a run of 9 straight points that carried them from that 64-61 deficit into a 70-64 lead with 4:38 remaining. The Celtics picked a bad time to go cold. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the Lakers picked a good time to clamp down. During this key stretch Allen (3 for 14) missed an open jumper off a curl, Paul Pierce missed a totally open 3-pointer, and Allen missed a drive.
The final four minutes was a matter of LA maintenance. Things did get hairy for them in the final 1:30, when a Rasheed Wallace left wing three coming out of a timeout triggered a wild sequence in which the teams suddenly started swapping threes, the biggest of which, in Rivers’s view, was a Ron Artest right wing three that made it 79-73 with 1:01 to go.
Artest had a strong game from start to finish.
“Ron Artest was our most valuable player tonight,’’ said Jackson. “He gave life to our team.’’
But the man who served as the real closer was Pau Gasol, who finished a great series with a manly 19-point, 18-rebound game capped off by a truly memorable left baseline hoop with 1:30 left on which he was hounded by Wallace, Kevin Garnett, and Pierce. No Laker had a better overall series, and that certainly includes Bryant, who somehow fooled enough people into thinking he had been the series MVP. If he has any conscience, he delivers the trophy to his Spanish teammate today.
The Celtics are hurting inside. They came within six minutes of winning what would have been one of the three greatest championships in Celtics history, right there with 1957 and 1969. They had come an astonishingly long way since the evening of April 17 when they began this wonderful march to a seventh game of the Finals with a triumph over Miami. They played exceptionally well as a team in order to defeat the Heat, Cavaliers, and Magic, each of whom was spearheaded by a member of the NBA’s All-League team. They continued that great team play as they took a 3-2 series lead heading back here for the series conclusion in the controversial 2-3-2 format the league simply does not need in this era of charter flights.
But the ever-casual Mr. Jackson pointed out that having the final two games in their building was “the way it was supposed to be,’’ and his confidence was rewarded.
So can we can the “soft’’ stuff, please? The Celtics were severely beaten on the boards. They were outdefended when it really mattered. No “soft’’ team wins a game like this.
“It was the hardest, most physical series,’’ acknowledged Bryant. “The physicality of this team. How smart they are. They’re well-coached. Guys can make shots. It was tough. They weren’t going to beat themselves.’’
Hate LA all you want. These guys can play.