One game behind and on the brink of elimination, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals Game 6 in true Laker style, pounding the Boston Celtics 89-67 with domination they had not displayed since Game 3. Kobe Bryant, was, per usual, the leader in offense, offering 26 points and 11 rebounds (in contrast, the Celtics’ “leader” that night was Ray Allen with 19 points).
Game 6 was, if anything, the turning point in the Finals. While it may not have crowned the Lakers as winners, it did set the stage for them to take Game 7 and the championship title—which they did, Thursday night at home in the Staples Center.
Game 6 was an unlucky game for the Celtics, who were marred by inaccuracy, spotty defense and the loss of center Kendrick Perkins early in the first quarter. Perkins subsequently sat out Game 7 with a knee injury—two torn ligaments in his right knee—but the Celtics did by no means go down easy.
In fact, the beginning of Game 7 showed a dominant Celtic team and a disoriented, lackluster Laker one. The Celtics seemed to rack up points fast and easy, with Kobe only 1-7 to start. But that didn’t last long. Before the half was over the Lakers had erased the point deficit, which at one point was closing in one double digits, and were getting into their groove. The game was hard fought to the end, no team ever really pulling away, keeping the score, and the suspense, tight, tangible.
While both teams faced each other in the finals before, most recently in 2008, it had not gone to the definitive Game 7 since 1984 in which the Celtics beat the Lakers at home, 111-102. Thursday night almost repeated history for the Celtics, when they got as close as three points within the lead under 2 minutes.
But it was just not meant to be. It wasn’t the Celtics night. And it’s not because they didn’t play as hard as they could, because they did. Celtic players were tough until the end, dripping with sweat, faces scrunched with fear but obvious hope, their hearts all in, trying as hard to close the gap, trying as hard to win what they had all but lost at the end of Game 6.
The Lakers were by no means dominant, shooting only 32.5% from the floor and missing crucial shots. But they out rebounded the Celtics 53 to 40, which is what truly won the game for them. Well, that, luck–and Ron Artest. Not to downplay Kobe’s role–Kobe is the Lakers’ architect of offense, their leader and king of the court. He has led the Lakers to multiple championships and crowned them basketball royalty.
But Ron Artest was the “X” factor last night, the fuel on which Kobe ran his game. When Rasheed Wallace made a 3-pointer to bring Boston to within three, Kobe passed to Artest who answered with his own. The crowd responded with a roar, Kobe himself punching the air with his fists; Artest blew them all a kiss. It was the shot that sealed the deal, that gave the Lakers their 16th title, and Ron Artest–not Kobe Bryant–had made it.
Artest was crucial not only to the final moments but to the entire game. He stayed on the floor most of the game, wearing Paul Pierce down (Pierced missed 10 of 15 shots), produced 5 steals and scored 12 of his 20 total game points in the second quarter bringing life and giving hope to a team that struggled in the beginning of the first half. Lakers coach Phil Jackson himself dubbed Artest MVP (though the actual award went to Bryant for coming up in the clutch).
And so, Thursday night, Artest was not being swarmed by cameras for being outspoken, outlandish or eccentric. He was swarmed for making one hell of a shot and delivering a crazy finish to an otherwise anticlimactic and hard-fought game–and bringing the Lakers to their sixteenth NBA title. It’s easy to say that for Artest, and the Lakers, 16 has never been sweeter.