Related News

Home » Sports » Basketball

Lakers roll to 15th title behind Bryant

The Los Angeles Lakers won their 15th championship and first since 2002 yesterday with a 99-86 win over the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the NBA finals.

One year after conceding the title to Boston, Bryant scored 30 points and Pau Gasol added 14 and 15 rebounds to dominate the Magic, who ran out of comebacks in the best-of-seven series.

Bryant earned his fourth NBA title, while Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson has a record 10th.

It took longer than Bryant expected, but he has stepped out of former teammate Shaquille O'Neal's enormous shadow - at last. His fourth championship secured a strong case for Bryant being the league's best player since Michael Jordan.

Bryant, who averaged 32.4 points and was named finals MVP, said the can-he-win-without-Shaq talk annoyed him.

"It was like Chinese water torture," he said. "I would cringe every time. I was just like, it's a challenge I'm just going to have to accept because there's no way I'm going to argue it. You can say it until you're blue in the face and rationalize it until you're blue in the face, but it's not going anywhere until you do something about it.

"I think we as a team answered the call because they understood the challenge that I had, and we all embraced it."

O'Neal, now with the Phoenix Suns, was glad to see Bryant win another title.

"Congratulations kobe, u deserve it," O'Neal said on his Twitter page. "You played great. Enjoy it my man enjoy it."

Jackson, who won six league titles in the 1990s with Jordan in Chicago, now has won No. 4 with Los Angeles and broke a tie with legendary Boston coach Red Auerbach as the most successful coach in finals history.

"I'll smoke the cigar tonight in memory of Red," Jackson said in reference to the late Auerbach's traditional victory celebration. "He was a great guy."

Bryant and Jackson, whose relationship strained and briefly snapped under the weight of success, are again at the top of their games.

Jackson, who once called Bryant "a selfish player" now sees the 30-year-old in a far different light.

"He's learned how to become a leader in a way in which people want to follow him," Jackson said. "That's really important for him to have learned that because he knew that he had to give to get back in return, and so he's become a giver rather than just a guy that a demanding leader. That's been great for him and great to watch."

Orlando will be haunted by moments in a series that swung on a few plays and had two overtime games.

Howard, the Magic's super hero center, was hardly a factor in Game 5. He scored 11 points, took just nine shots and never got a chance to get going. Rashard Lewis scored 18 points, but made only three of 12 3-pointer opportunities for Orlando, which after living on the 3, finally died by it.

The Magic made just eight of 27 shots from long range.

"I thought our guys fought hard," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But they just had an answer for everything."

Orlando was trying to become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals. They had rallied to knock off Philadelphia and Boston, and then upset LeBron James and Cleveland in the conference finals. The Magic always felt they had a shot at history.

"It hurts," Howard said. "It hurts a lot. But you can learn a lot from losing. Sometimes you've got to lose to win."

Trailing 40-36, Los Angeles went on a 16-0 run, which included two 3-pointers by Ariza and one by Derek Fisher. When Fisher got Howard to leave his feet and dropped a layup, the Lakers were up by nine points and a sizable contingent of purple-and-gold clad fans began chants of "Let's Go Lakers!"

They led 56-46 at halftime and kept their distance in the second half, forcing the Magic, who shot a finals record 63 percent in Game 3, into rapid-fire mode.

This time, the shots wouldn't drop.

The Lakers' shots weren't falling either early on, and if their field-goal percentage wasn't ugly enough, Bryant jammed the outside fingers on his shooting hand when he had the ball ripped away.

During a timeout, Bryant, who has been bothered by a dislocated pinky finger for two seasons, kicked his feet in obvious pain as he sat on the bench. At halftime, one of the team's trainers yanked on his hand and Bryant turned down an offer of ice.

"I want to feel the pain," he said.

After the final horn, he leaped into the air and was quickly engulfed by his teammates, who bounced around the floor of Amway Arena. Bryant then gave a long, heartfelt hug and shared a few words with Jackson before sweeping up his daughters, both wearing gold Lakers dresses, into his arms.

"It finally felt like a big old monkey was off my back," he said. "It felt so good to be able to have this moment. For this moment to be here and to reflect back on the season and everything that you've been through, it's top of the list, man."

Bryant had come up short twice in the finals before, in 2004 with O'Neal against Detroit, and again last season against the Celtics in the renewal of the league's best rivalry. The Lakers were beaten in six games, losing the finale in Boston by 39 points, a humiliating loss that Bryant and his teammates had trouble shaking.

As teammates, Bryant and O'Neal were nearly unbeatable on the court. Off it, there were problems.

The pair won three straight titles together from 2000-02, but the Bryant-O'Neal dynasty became dysfunctional as both fought for control with Jackson publicly siding with his All-Star center. It all eventually crumbled in 2004 when O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.

Bryant was blamed for the breakup, and as the years passed, his many critics said he couldn't win one by himself. He couldn't, but the addition of Gasol, who came over in a stunning trade from Memphis last season, filled O'Neal's massive void at center and gave Bryant help.

Fisher, who has four championship rings himself, came back to L.A. after stints in Golden State and Utah and became a steadying force. If not for his two key 3-pointers in Game 4, this series would still be going.

The Lakers got help from their entire roster as Odom, Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum, who missed most of last season and the playoffs with a knee injury, came through.

"To have the attitude of we're going to become a better defensive team, a better rebounding team and then to actually do it and to see it all happen, it feels like I'm dreaming.

"I can't believe this moment is here."


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend