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Rally And Repeat: Lakers Take 16th Title
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LOS ANGELES â€” These tests of trust have always been a challenge for Kobe Bryant â€” when to extend it, when to reel it back, and most of all when to let the bonds carry him through the most important moments.
Bryant passed, and Ron Artest hit a 3-pointer. Bryant misfired, and Pau Gasol made things right. And finally, when time had run out and the ball was in his arms once more, Bryant leaped, confident his teammates would catch him.
Only then were the streamers unleashed, turning Staples Center into a purple-and-gold snow globe.
In the middle was Bryant, bursting with joy Thursday night, after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a strenuous 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics and a second straight championship, concluding a memorable seven-game series.
Only when it was over, and the Champagne corks had popped, did Bryant confess to the intense emotions that drove him to this point, to his fifth championship and his first against the Lakers' historic rivals.
â€œI just wanted it so bad,â€ he said. â€œI wanted it so, so bad.â€
Bryant now has as many rings as Magic Johnson, one more than Shaquille O'Neal and one fewer than Michael Jordan. He was named most valuable player of the finals for the second straight year, after averaging 28.6 points, 8 rebounds, 3.9 assists.
Asked what the championship meant to him individually, Bryant said gleefully, â€œJust got one more than Shaq,â€ his former co-star and co-combatant. â€œYou know how I am â€” I don't forget anything.â€
In a moment that was both poetic and surreal, he accepted the M.V.P. trophy from the Celtics legend Bill Russell, for whom the award is named. For weeks, Bryant had revealed no inner thoughts and admitted no special feelings about the rivalry.
With a 2010 championship hat on his head, and his young daughters at his side, Bryant finally came clean. Yes, beating Boston meant more, for posterity and to avenge the Lakers' loss to the Celtics in the 2008 finals.
â€œIt meant the world to me as well,â€ Bryant said, â€œbut I couldn't focus on that. I had to focus on playing.â€
It was just the Lakers' third finals victory over the Celtics in 12 meetings, dating to 1959. No two teams have met more for the championship. The Lakers will soon raise a 16th banner, one shy of the Celtics' record.
Jerry West, the tortured soul who endured so many finals heartbreaks against the Celtics, was in the building. So was the Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn, who has been part of all 17 of Boston's championships, as a player, a coach and a broadcaster.
Coach Phil Jackson earned his 11th title, further distancing himself from the Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach, who had nine. Jackson is contemplating retirement and weighing a potential pay cut if he decides to stay. He was not ready to divulge his intentions but said that winning the championship â€œdoes improve my chancesâ€ of returning to attempt a three-peat.
â€œThat's a wonderful thing,â€ he said of the title.
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers also is considering retiring, to spend more time with his family. Like Jackson, he said he was not ready to think out loud about his options. But Rivers hinted at his motivation when he called the Celtics â€œthe craziest, most emotional group I've ever coached in my life.â€
â€œI told them, they made me reach to places that I never thought I needed to go,â€ Rivers said.
Changes are likely for Boston. Ray Allen, the longtime sharpshooter, is a free agent. Rivers said that Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics' veteran big man, who has been bothered by back problems, was pondering retirement.
Wallace started the finale, in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins, and gave the Celtics a solid 35 minutes, producing 8 rebounds and 11 points, including a big 3-pointer before fouling out with 1:23 left.
Paul Pierce, the M.V.P. of the 2008 finals, led the Celtics with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the finale. But he never got much traction in the series as he tried to fight through the physical, attacking defense of Artest.
Like the series itself, Game 7 was firmly in the Celtics' control, until suddenly it wasn't. They could not make a 3-2 lead stand up, nor could they hold a 13-point lead in the second half Thursday night.
The night finally turned on two plays. Derek Fisher, a master of postseason clutch-shooting, hit a signature 3-pointer to tie the score at 64-64 with 6 minutes 12 seconds left. Sixteen seconds later, Bryant ripped a rebound from Glen Davis, drew the foul and went to the line for two free throws. He made both, for a lead the Lakers would not relinquish.
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