All season long the Lakers relied on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Sometimes it seemed like a two-man show and the other Lakers were simply spectators. Including the playoffs, one of those two led the team in scoring in 89 of their 105 games. And four of the games when they didn't lead the Lakers in scoring, Bryant wasn't playing.
But last night they won Game 7 as a team. They had no choice but to win it as a team. Kobe chose the worst possible time to have his worst game of the postseason and Gasol had his struggles on offense as well. The two combined to shoot 12 for 40. What's even more bizarre is the rest of the Lakers didn't shoot that much better. The entire team shot 33% from the field. But despite the offensive struggles the entire team never gave up and hustled the entire game to repeat as champions, beating the Celtics 83-79.
Kobe Bryant was the MVP of the Series But Not of This Game
Six. That's the number of games this season Kobe shot worse than he did last night. He backed into the series MVP. If Gasol hadn't struggled mightily as well, he could've been the one hoisting the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award. Bryant shot 6 for 24 including missing all 6 of his three-point attempts.
He took some of the most ill-advised shots you'll ever see in the first half. It's one thing if Bryant's shots just aren't falling but it's quite another when he's shooting it when he's double and triple-teamed. At the half Bryant was 3 of 14 and half of those shots were horrible decisions. Bryant needed to get others involved and he wasn't doing it. He could've easily had a triple-double with the way they were daring him to pass but instead he finished with 2 assists.
If the Lakers had lost this game it would've definitely hurt his legacy. Instead of being in the discussion of the GOAT (greatest of all-time) he would've been the scapegoat. It was more than just the low shooting percentage that contributed to his poor performance. In the third he turned the ball over when he drove to the lane and jumped before finding a target to pass to. It led to a transition three that put the Celtics up by 9. In the fourth he inexplicably lost control of the ball with no defender on him and then committed a blocking foul on the other end. Then, with under 30 seconds to go and the Lakers up by three, Bryant missed a three-point attempt but Gasol got the rebound and kicked it back out to Bryant. Instead of running out the clock he drove to the hoop and luckily was fouled by Rasheed Wallace. Imagine if Bryant had been called for a charge in that situation. He had the ball with 27 seconds to go and a full 24 on the shot clock. All he had to do was dribble it out and wait for someone to foul him. Instead, he drove and got fouled and gave the Celtics more time on the clock.
But it wasn't all bad for Bryant. He did grab a playoff career-high 15 rebounds. But this shouldn't come as that big of a surprise. Since Bryant is playing defense on Rondo he's protecting against the drive and sitting back in the lane. He's in a great position to grab some rebounds. He deserves credit for going after them though and being in the right spot to grab them.
Ron Artest Was Great
After Game 6 I mentioned that Artest was simply adequate. He hit some open shots and did what he's supposed to. Last night he shot a worse percentage but he still had a better game. He hit 7 of 18 shots which doesn't sound great but compared to the rest of the team he was on fire. Offensively, he contributed with 20 points but offense isn't why the Lakers brought in Artest.
Defensively, he was superb. He had 5 steals by having active hands and even ripping a ball away from Glen Davis. He was all over Paul Pierce who hit just 5 of 15 shots including 1 of 4 in the fourth. The Celtics look to Pierce in the fourth the way the Lakers look to Kobe. With that option shut down, the Celtics couldn't get anything going.
The Lakers Won as a Team
Just about every player chipped in a little bit. Andrew Bynum played through the injury and grabbed four offensive rebounds. Odom followed on a fast break for a second chance bucket late in the third. Derek Fisher hit a three-pointer to tie the game in the fourth. Artest played great defense and knocked down a huge three-pointer with a minute to go. Gasol blocked Pierce on one end and then converted a three-point play on the other. Despite Bryant's issues he knocked down 8 of 9 free throws in the fourth. Even Sasha Vujacic came up big knocking down two free throws for the final two points of the contest.
They Won it with Hustle
Every game of this series was won by the team that won the rebounding battle. They outrebounded the Celtics 53-40 and had an amazing 23 offensive rebounds. That's one way to overcome shooting 32.5% for the game.
Phil Jackson gets his 11th ring, Bryant gets his fifth and second
consecutive NBA Finals MVP and the Lakers come within one championship
of tying the Celtics for most all-time. Good thing Phil has a penchant