Posted by Sekou Smith
LOS ANGELES — Take that Shaq.
Kobe Bryant‘s latest NBA title was his sweetest. Even better, it gives him something his former teammates and longtime rival doesn’t have: a fifth title.
And after weeks of blank expressions and surly responses after games and practices, Bryant let his guard down.
“I got one more than Shaq,” a smiling Bryant said after the Lakers’ Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics for their second straight title. “And you can take that to the bank.”
If you do, just sit it next to Bryant’s second straight Bill Russell Finals MVP award, which he carried to the podium with him after the game.
There really was no reason to announce the award, since no one else in this series averaged more than 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
You knew it was his.
Sure, Pau Gasol staked an early claim to it with his inspired play against the Celtics during these NBA Finals. Derek Fisher had his shining moments. Shoot, had Ron Artest played the entire series the way he played Game 7 he would have warranted serious consideration.
But you knew it all along, the slow and steady burn that is Kobe Bryant is what willed the Los Angeles Lakers to their second straight NBA title and the franchise’s 16th overall.
We can even forgive Bryant’s seemingly unforgivable Game 7 shooting performance — a brutal 6-for-24 effort, including an 0-for-6 skid from beyond the 3-point line. But he did so much more than score in this game and series, finishing with 15 rebounds in Game 7.
“You know, I just wanted it so bad. I wanted it so bad,” a smiling Bryant said of his struggles, early and often. “On top of that, I was on [empty]. Man, I was really, really tired. And the more I tried to push, the more it kept getting away from me. I’m just glad that my teammates really got us back in the game. I was thankful that was to make one [dang] shot at the end of the game and make some free throws. But it was a tough one.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson sensed the pressure was getting to Bryant early on and didn’t hesitate to try to calm his star down.
“In the first half I just mentioned that I thought he was a little too animated. He was trying too hard, and I thought he’s a guy that can try hard and get things accomplished by sheer will. But this night was not one he was able to do that on. He had to do things off the ball and things that were in the context of what we wanted do.”
It worked. After Jackson rested him early in the fourth quarter, Bryant helped the Lakers close down the stretch, scoring 10 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“He came back and gave us the help we needed down the stretch.” said Jackson, who won his 11th title overall and fifth with Bryant.
Bryant said this one was easily the most brutal to get his hands on, mostly because of the quality of the opponent. The Lakers had to rally from a 13-point deficit just to get their hands on this latest Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“They believed they could beat us,” Bryant said. “Obviously, what happened in 2008. But the physicality of their team, how smart they are, extremely well coached, and guys make big shots. It was tough. They weren’t going to beat themselves. We had to beat them.”