June 18, 2010

The LA Lakers are your 2010 Champions

No matter how much the colour commentators try to colour it, or the sensational writers tried to sensationalise it, or the hyped-up players themselves try to hype it up, the Game seven of the NBA Finals, the one game to decide it all, was an ugly, gritty, tough affair. No pretty basketball, just hustle and defense.

Just the way I like it!

And in the end, just four point separated the Champions from the Runners-Up. But as the rapper Nelly once said (and I'm sure he was quoting someone too, I just don't know who): "Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers."

And the winners this year were familiar - so familiar that we'd seen them do this same thing at this time last year. Los Angeles Lakers survived the Game 7 against the Boston Celtics to win the franchise's 16th NBA championship. Despite a horrible offensive game, Kobe Bryant shone brightly out of everyone else who offered a faint glimmer and won the Finals MVP.

And now that the NBA 2009-10 season has come to a close, I can't say that the Lakers didn't deserve it. The Lakers were the most talented team on paper when the season began, and ended up as the best in the West, perhaps an underwhelming end to their regular season. But then Kobe came to life, suddenly ignoring his finger and his knee and his so-called, "old age". Gasol became the best big player in the league, overshadowing the likes of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, etc for good. Andrew Bynum played until his knee killed him, but he played. And Ron Artest... Oh, I'm going to have a lot more to say about Ron Artest in the coming days - a player who fought all kinds of demons, mostly from within himself, to become the hero. It was deserving that their biggest challenge came from their biggest rivals, the unlikely Celtics, who even took a 3-2 lead. But the Lakers stood tough, and played the Celtics way, and won the Celtics way.

The entire Finals were a tumultuous, up-and-down series, with favourites shifting nearly from game to game. The Lakers were brilliant in Game 1, winning by sharing the ball as a team, and from domination by Bryant, and particularly, the key match-up between Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett, which Gasol won emphatically.

Lakers had a similar game in Game 2, but there was one difference with the Celtics... Ray Allen! Ray aka Jesus Shuttlesworth broke an NBA Finals record when he made EIGHT 3-pointers in the game, leading the Celtics to a victory, with the help of some amazing clutch play by Rajon Rondo.

The series shifted to Boston, but the Lakers came out undeterred in Game 3. Kobe was brilliant, perhaps playing his best game of the series, as he scored 29 points to go with 7 rebounds. But the game's hero was Derek Fisher, who scored 11 of his 16 in the final quarter and rallied his team to victory. Although this game saw the reawakening of Kevin Garnett, it wasn't enough to stop the Lakers from taking a 2-1 lead.

Celtics came back strong in Games 4 and 5. Relatively quite so far, Paul Pierce began to play like the 2008 Finals MVP again as he led his team in both these games. More importantly, the Celtics found their defense against Kobe again, making him into a bad volume shooter, shutting down Gasol's influence, and forcing their bullying ways on to the Lakers. Game 4 was won by the brilliant Celtic bench efforts - Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Tony Allen, and Rasheed Wallace. Game 5 became the Paul Pierce show. Bryant had 38 points, including 23 straight for his team and 19 in the third quarter, but it wasn't enough to beat the hot-shooting Celtics.

The series returned to LA, and perhaps facing elimination, Kobe rallied his team together. But he had to back up his words with better team-play: the Celtics had managed to turn the Lakers into their worst fear, a selfish, Kobe-never-pass team. In Game 6, Kobe played much better, scoring 26 and 11, and his teammates Gasol, Odom, and Artest got involved, too. The most important thing was that the Lakers played defense, holding the Celtics to just 67 points, which is the second lowest finals point total of all time.

And so the stakes were set for an exciting, winner-takes-all Game 7 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Lakers trailed the game most of the way, thanks to excellent Celtic defense. But they found an unlikely hero in Ron Artest who came them alive. Also, they held a huge advantage in rebounds, led by Gasol, Bynum, Odom, and Kobe. Kobe had an awful shooting night, going 6-24, but made up for it by grabbing 15 rebounds. Gasol was brilliant, especially in the end, scoring 9 of his 19 points in the fourth and grabbing 18 rebounds total. Artest had 20 points, including clutch plays all game.

And when the dust settled, the NBA Champions were crowned Lakers again. They repeated, Kobe had five rings, one for each finger on his hand, and Derek Fisher did, too. Gasol won the key match-up against Garnett and got redemption for two years ago. And the rest of the squad did just enough to survive the Celtics.

The game followed by some classic quotes in Artest's post-game interview, and Kobe, who finally led his guard down and admitted how important this victory was to him.

"This one is by far the sweetest, because it’s [The Celtics],” Bryant said after the Lakers beat Boston for the first time in a Game 7. "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."

And of course, he didn't forgive his old pal turned enemy Shaquille O'Neal for all those years of rivalry, for Shaq telling Kobe to "tell him how his ass taste" two years ago. "Just got one more than Shaq," Kobe said after the game, "You can take that to the bank. I don’t forget anything."

And so it's over. The Champions have been decided, the confetti fallen, the champagne spilled, the metaphoric ass tasted. The Celtics had an amazing run, but finally had their age catch up with them at the worst time possible - the fourth quarter of the game seven of the NBA Finals. They were four points away from glory, but there can only be one winner.

The Lakers are your 2010 NBA Champions. It's all about Number One. Cuz two is not a winner, and three nobody remembers.

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