In a series filled with offensive stars, it was defense that won the day for the Los Angeles Lakers as they battled back from a 13 point deficit to defeat the Boston Celtics and capture their sixteenth NBA title, 83-79.
As the final buzzer sounded and purple and gold confetti began raining down from the rafters, Kobe Bryant hopped on the scorer's table and held aloft five fingers.When he hopped down, Boston's legendary Hall of Fame center Bill Russell was waiting to shake his hand. It was another game seven classic, but this time, it went the Lakers' way.
Los Angeles defeated the Celtics for the first time in a Finals game seven to repeat as champions after trailing for much of the final quater in the last game of the season.
NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 23 points despite shooting 6-of-24 for the night, while Pau Gasol chipped in 19. Bryant won his fifth ring with L.A., who repeated for the first time since winning three consecutive titles from 2000-02.
“This one is by far the sweetest, because it’s them,” Bryant said. “This was the hardest one by far. I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up.”
Ron Artest, the only addition by the Lakers in the offseason, contributed 20 points on Bryant's off night, including a key fourth quarter three-point play.
"Well, first of all I want to thank everybody in my hood," Artest said in an ABC interview immediately following the game. "I definitely want to thank my doctors...my psychiatrist, she really helped me relax a lot."
With their fifth title in 11 seasons, the Lakers moved one championship behind Boston's 17 banners for the overall NBC lead. Amid the confetti and streamers after the final buzzer, Laker legend and team part-owner Magic Johnson congratulated Bryant who is now tied with Johnson for most titles won for the franchise. Artest had been a liability for most of the season, but came up with a huge game on the Lakers' biggest night, playing his customary tough defense while hitting several big shots.
Paul Pierce had 18 point and 10 rebound for Boston, who just couldn't seal the deal in the last quarter of a memorable playoff run after finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference this season. Kevin Garnett had 17 points, but Boston missed two chances to claim the title after taking game five back home.
"Listen, give the Lakers credit," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They were terrific."
After three quarters of mostly terrible offense, the Lakers tied it up at 61 with a three-point play from Artest with 7:29 left. Bryant's free throws seconds later gave the Lakers their first lead of the second half, and the Lakers went up by five before Bryant and Sasha Vujacic were called upon to hit free throws in the closing second to keep L.A. ahead.
The Lakers will relish this title because they took it from the Celtics, their most-storied rival, with a strong defensive performance and fourth-quarter poise. The two teams have met 12 times in the Finals, but this was just the third win for the Lakers.