Lakers overturn Celtics for the trophy; Kobe creeps closer to Jordan

Los Angeles Lakers have won their 16th NBA championship, rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 83-79. It was a game-seven classic and this time it went the Lakers’ way. Beating Boston for the first time in a seventh game, the Lakers came up champions again after trailing in the last quarter of the last game of the season.

Kobe Bryant had a horrible 6-of-24 shooting night but still scored 23 points and was named finals MVP, earning his fifth championship. ”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 added 20 points for the Lakers, who shot terribly while trailing for most of the first three-and-a-half quarters, yet they reclaimed the lead midway through the fourth quarter and hung on with big shots from Pau Gasol and Artest. ”Well, first of all I want to thank everybody in my hood,” Artest said right after 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 NBA lead. Amid the purple and gold confetti and streamers after the final buzzer, Magic Johnson rushed the court to congratulate Bryant, who now has the same number of titles as the greatest-ever Laker.

Paul Pierce had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who just couldn’t finish the final quarter of a remarkable play-off run after a fourth-place finish in the eastern conference. Kevin Garnett added 17 points, but Boston flopped in two chances to clinch the series in Los Angeles after winning game five back home. ”Listen, give the Lakers credit,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ”They were terrific.” Rivers knows changes are coming, saying afterward that the 2010-11 Celtics will be different than the 2009-10 team. The Celtics had a 50 per cent record for the final two-thirds of the season, prompting many to wonder if the 2008 champions could turn it back on for the play-offs. That question was answered long ago. Yes, they could – and with one or two more stops on Thursday, they’d have won an 18th title. ”There’s a lot of crying in that locker room,” Rivers said. ”I don’t think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That’s a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared.”

After three quarters of mostly terrible offence, the Lakers tied it 61-61 on Artest’s three-point play with seven minutes 29 seconds left. Bryant’s free throws 90 seconds later gave the Lakers their first lead of the second half.

In 2008, the Celtics blew out the Lakers in Boston in game six for their 17th championship. That loss drove Bryant all last season. He was not at his best in game seven and acknowledged as much. But he still captured the finals MVP award, averaging 28.6 points in the series. ”Let’s go for it again,” Bryant said, moments before hoisting the finals MVP trophy. The Lakers will relish this title. The teams have met in 12 NBA finals, but the Lakers won for just the third time.

Kobe Bryant is the best player in professional basketball today, better than LeBron James, better than any and everybody, even if his determined one-on-three efforts in Game 7 Thursday night were misguided and helped the Celtics build a 13-point lead at one point. The Lakers won an entirely dramatic if not very well played winner-take-all Game 7 because Pau Gasol controlled the action from the low block for an important spell, because Ron Artest justified the Lakers’ faith in him by, of all things, hitting a couple of huge shots and carrying the offensive load early when Kobe wasn’t up to it, and because Kobe closed it all out by finding his game in the final few minutes.

And then it was on … the discussion about Kobe’s place in Lakers history, basketball history, sports history, because we obsess over perspective now, as much the fault of sports columnists and TV talkers as anything. The newest entirely lazy thing in sports is simply counting championships and ranking a player accordingly. And because Kobe has surpassed Shaq and Tim Duncan’s four NBA Championships won, has now tied Magic Johnson’s five, and has crept within one of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan’s six, there is this need in some quarters to ask the question as to whether Kobe has pulled even with the likes of Magic and Jordan.

Will Kobe ever reach the height of Jordan or Magic?

Michael Jordan owns six NBA championship rings and his statue stands outside the United Center. Magic Johnson could carry his five rings past his statue outside the Staples Center if he chose to do so.

Kobe Bryant doesn’t have a statue, which is why Thursday night’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals between his Lakers and archenemy Celtics is a prime opportunity for him to enhance his legacy further. Four NBA championships and a multitude of other team and individual honors has Bryant ticketed for eventual enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, alongside greats such as Michael Jordan and Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr.

But with a victory Thursday, Bryant would tie Johnson and sit one behind Jordan in the championship tally, begging the question of whether Bryant is reaching their heights as he chases their accomplishments. “It’s not at the front of his mind,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Wednesday in Los Angeles. “That’s not what the big issue is. It’s about his personality. It’s about winning. And I think, in retrospect, he’s going to see that at some point.”

Bryant’s personality — his reputation for driving teammates and stepping on opponents’ throats — is what several league observers agree most likens him to Jordan. “There’s only one Michael,” former Bulls assistant Johnny Bach said. “But Kobe is the closest we’ll see because of his attack mentality.”

Jackson says this attack mentality has extended to quiet moments for Bryant, who has shown awareness of his place among basketball immortals. “At one point (after) I got to the Lakers, I got a call from Jerry West, who was vice president and player personnel director,” Jackson said. “And he said, ‘I’d like to tell you I had a long conversation with Kobe and he wanted to know how both Elgin (Baylor) and I were capable of scoring close to 30 points or more a game at that level of basketball at that time.’ “And it was going to be so difficult for Kobe to score 20 points with ( Shaquille O’Neal) scoring the kind of points he was scoring at the time, which was probably scoring 29 or so a game. So at that point in his career — Kobe was 21 at that time — he was very concerned about his mortality and how history was going to look at him as a basketball player. At this time, I don’t think it’s in the back of his mind that he has to catch Magic or he has to catch Michael or anything else. He wants to win. It’s what the effort is worth for him to do what he has to go through to play this game.”