There were times when last Thursday night’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Lakers at the Staples Center resembled a recreational league match, and not the deciding contest in what turned out to be a terrific series.
For more than three quarters, the Celtics were the better team, but that changed midway through the final quarter when the Lakers caught and passed them, eventually holding on for an 83-79 victory, and winning a second consecutive title and 16th in franchise history.
It was also redemption for a Lakers’ team that was embarrassed in Game 6 at the TD Garden two years ago, losing by 39 points, as the Celtics celebrated their 17th banner.
Kobe Bryant, voted the Finals Most Valuable Player, wasn’t about to let the Lakers lose, and despite a poor shooting first half in which he made three of 14 from the floor, came back and scored 15 points in the second half, finishing with a game-high 23 points and 15 rebounds.
“It was tough sledding out there,’’ said Lakers’ Head Coach Phil Jackson, who notched his record 11th title as coach. “I just told them to keep rebounding.”
And they did, especially power forward Pau Gasol, who tallied 19 points and 18 rebounds, nine on the offensive glass.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Lakers trailed 57-53, and tied it at 64-64 when point guard Derek Fisher nailed a three-pointer with 5:56 showing.
It became 68-64 with 5:21 left when Bryant, a shooting guard, made a 17-footer, and the Lakers surged to a 76-70 cushion with 1:30 remaining.
With 1:01 on the clock, small forward Ron Artest, who sank seven of 18 shots from the field and pulled down five rebounds, drained a three-pointer to make it 79-73, and Sasha Vujacic drilled two free throws with 12 seconds left to clinch it.
“He knows how much I want him back,’’ said Bryant, who averaged 28.6 points, eight rebounds, and 3.9 assists. “Let’s do it again.”
Boston led 10-9 with 5:55 left in the first quarter, and upped the lead to 17-13 with less than three minutes showing in the quarter.
Boston closed out the stanza on a 6-1 run, and took a 23-14 lead into the second quarter, where they stumbled, getting outscored, 20-17, by the Lakers, who shot 26 percent from the floor at the half, but collected 15 of their 23 offensive rebounds.
The Celtics were outrebounded, 53-40, and had eight offensive caroms. The team that won the rebounding battle took every game.
That Artest tallied 12 of his 20 points at the intermission was a God-send, after shooting erratically most of the regular season, and much of the playoffs.
“I want to thank everybody in the ‘hood, my wife, and my psychiatrist,’’ said Artest, the Queens, New York native. “Wow, I made that shot. I couldn’t believe it. He (Bryant) passed me the ball. He never passes me the ball.”
The third quarter belonged slightly to the Lakers, who outscored the Celtics, 19-17, and the fourth quarter, which they won, 30-22.
The Lakers made 32.5 percent of their shots from the floor, while Boston hit 40.8 percent, but it didn’t matter. What did was that the Lakers finally won a Game 7 from their hated rivals, something they hadn’t done in four tries.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.