Kobe Bryant was there in the end, and that’s why he’s the best player in the NBA. Bryant had one of the worst offensive three quarters I’ve ever seen him play, then came up big from the line in the fourth to lead the Lakers to an 83-79 win tonight in Game 7 to grab their 16th championship. Los Angeles erased a 13-point third quarter deficit, getting 18 and 15 boards from Gasol and Bryant, respectively, and relying on killer D to clinch late.
Bryant finished 6-of-24 and made just one field goal in the final quarter, but he and his teammates made a living at the line and completely shut down the Celtics on the other end to pull away. Boston held tough with late threes from Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, but a pair of free throws from Sasha Vujacic with 11 seconds to go sealed it. With neither team fluid offensively (Boston shot 40.8%, LA 32.5%), foul shots proved to be the decider: The Lakers had 37 attempts to the Celtics’ 17, including 19 in the fourth quarter alone, mostly on fouls off the ball with the penalty in effect. In other words, the Lakers executed better defensively down the stretch, and they’re champions as a result.
Ron Artest deserves much of the credit for Los Angeles as well — he kept the Lakers afloat offensively in the first half with Bryant and Gasol struggling (the pair was a combined 6-for-26 at the half), plus nailed a key three with just over a minute remaining to pad the lead to six. In all, he had a series-high 20 points, chipping in five rebounds and five steals to boot. Psychiatrists can do wonderful things, hey?
Boston got a balanced effort, with each starter finishing in double figures. Rajon Rondo didn’t stand out, but came up with a fine line in the end — 14 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, also tracking down a loose ball and nailing a three in the final minute to pull the Celtics within three. Though he played great defense on Kobe much of the night, Allen was the weak link offensively, finishing with 13 on just 3-of-14 shooting.
Anyway, that wraps up another season of basketball. My prediction of Boston coming out on top didn’t ring true in the end, but I’m not about to argue about the way this one turned out. Definitely the best NBA Finals I’ve seen in a long, long time.