Photos: Lakers vs. Celtics, Game 7
Photos from the Lakers / Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
LOS ANGELES — These tests of trust have always been a challenge for Kobe Bryant — when to extend it, when to reel it back and most of all when to let the bonds carry him through the most important moments.
Bryant passed, and Ron Artest hit a 3-pointer. Bryant misfired, and Pau Gasol made things right. And finally, when time had run out and the ball was in his arms once more, Bryant leapt, confident his teammates would catch him.
Only then were the purple-and-gold streamers unleashed.
The Los Angeles Lakers fought from behind just about all night Thursday, finally overcoming the Boston Celtics in the final minutes to claim an 83-79 victory and successfully defend their N.B.A. title. The Lakers will soon raise a 16th championship banner, one shy of the Celtics’ record.
Bryant had 23 points on a difficult shooting night and claimed his fifth title, tying him with Magic Johnson and moving him one behind Michael Jordan. Coach Phil Jackson secured his 11th and will now contemplate his future.
Bryant won his second straight finals Most Valuable Player award, and in a poetic moment accepted the trophy from the Celtics legend Bill Russell, for whom the award is named.
“This was by far the sweetest,” Bryant said of the championship, “because it’s against them. And because it’s the hardest one by far.”
All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, led by Paul Pierce’s 18 points.
For much of the night, the Celtics were in charge, physically and on the scoreboard. Bryant, who made only 6 of 24 shots, brought the Lakers back, a basket at a time. In the closing minutes, he passed up a shot to hit Artest in the corner instead. Artest made the biggest shot of the night, giving the Lakers a 79-73 lead, and the cushion they needed.
The Lakers have now won five championships since 2000, cementing them as the N.B.A.’s leading dynasty in the post-Jordan era. The San Antonio Spurs have won four since 1999, their last in 2007.
The finale was unaesthetic and low scoring, a reflection more of the Celtics’ defensive tenacity than the Lakers’ flash. There were few easy baskets, and no stray ball stayed untouched for very long.
Bryant, unable to find driving lanes, kept taking difficult jumpers. The Celtics simply smiled and drove the other way, building as much as a 13-point lead in the third quarter.
The Lakers kept chipping away, despite poor foul shooting and bouts of bad ball-handling against the Celtics’ persistent defense.
Bryant provided the momentum. He made three free throws after baiting Ray Allen into a foul at the arc. After Derek Fisher hit a signature 3-pointer to tie the game, Bryant hit two more free throws for a 66-64 edge with 5 minutes 56 seconds left, the Lakers’ first lead of the second half.
The Lakers were plagued by poor foul shooting all night, going 25 of 37 as a team. Gasol missed a pair of free throws in the middle of the fourth, with the Lakers trailing by a point.
This was the 12th finals edition of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, one dominated by Boston, which had won nine titles in the prior 11 meetings. That included the 2008 finals, the only one that mattered to those on the court.
Jerry West, the tortured soul who endured so many finals heartbreaks against the Celtics, was in the building. So was the Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn, who has been part of all 17 of Boston’s championships, as a player, coach and broadcaster.
The evening was filled with tension, or at least as much as a Los Angeles crowd could generate. Even Jackson, the veteran of 13 finals, admitted to a little nervous energy before the game…