Bryant, Jackson and the Lakers Add to Their Trophy Collections

Elsa/Getty Images: The Lakers after defeating the Magic on Sunday in Orlando, Florida.
Published: June 15, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla. — Kobe Bryant’s chase for a fourth N.B.A. title had taken the form of a horse hunting for a carrot tethered teasingly in front of him. The prize was always within eyesight, always elusive.

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers after defeating the Orlando Magic for the championship. That pursuit ended Sunday night. The cord was cut, the race ceased. Forget carrots — Bryant can now savor the carats that will adorn another championship ring. The Lakers found their destination to their 15th N.B.A. championship after a meandering route. When the final buzzer sounded, they stood with an 99-86 series-clinching victory in Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, whose season-long resilience was lost amid Bryant’s efficiency. With 30 points Sunday, Bryant secured his first finals Most Valuable Player award. The ear-splitting chants of “Beat L.A.” early in the game at Amway Arena were replaced by choruses of “M.V.P.” as Bryant marched to the free-throw line late in the game.

The champagne-drenched evening ended a seven-year championship drought in which speed bumps had turned into mountains for the Lakers. In the stretch between titles, the Lakers had become burdened by soap-opera story lines: from the trade of Shaquille O’Neal to the retirement and rehiring of Coach Phil Jackson to the disappointing showing in last season’s finals against the Boston Celtics. Jackson now has 10 titles — 6 from his tenure with the Chicago Bulls and 4 with the Lakers — to surpass the legendary Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach. The titles were flanked by disappointment, and Jackson’s scalp now shows more salt and less pepper, the accumulation of layered trials before another triumph. Jackson’s hair was covered after the win Sunday by a gold cap, with the Roman numeral X on it. He called the moment “surreal.” “I wasn’t at the stage of my life where I could get out and do the things that I had done 10 years ago or 15 years ago to push a team,” Jackson said. “And they pushed themselves and I really feel strongly that this is about them. However, having won 10 championships is a remarkable championship, there’s no doubt about it.”

Bryant and Derek Fisher — two cogs that connect the last Lakers championship in 2002 to this one — each have four titles; their redemption arriving a year after they faltered badly against the Celtics. There was no such cowering against the Magic. In a series defined by comebacks, overtimes and missed opportunities, the clinching game felt anticlimactic. After Rafer Alston’s 3-pointer earlier in the third quarter, the Magic was within striking distance, 58-53. Lamar Odom, who had 17 points, responded with consecutive 3s and the Lakers again separated themselves by double digits, a margin they maintained the rest of the game. Dwight Howard, who legitimized his status as one of the game’s stars during the postseason, had his night largely stymied by the defensive efforts of Pau Gasol. Howard was humbled by fouls on the defensive end and harassed by Gasol, who finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds, on the offensive end. Howard ended his season quietly with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Magic fought back several times this postseason, rallying from a season derailing injury to the All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson and series deficits against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Celtics. It fell short of the biggest trick of all. The more Bryant yearned for another ring — perhaps to validate his post O’Neal legacy — the more it seemed to slip through his grasp. “It was like Chinese water torture, just keep dropping a drop of water on your temple,” Bryant said of the talk that he could not win a title without O’Neal. “It was just annoying. 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.” With the title all but secured, Bryant’s emotions came out when he hugged Sasha Vujacic as the Lakers crowded one another during a timeout, their lead at 97-84, with 40.4 seconds left in the game. His hands free from Mickael Pietus and Courtney Lee, Bryant leaped in the air several times as the buzzer sounded and soon was holding his daughters Natalia and Gianna. On Sunday, Bryant made 10 of his 23 shots and all eight of his free throws. In the five-game series, he scored at least 30 points four times.

The Lakers largely shed themselves of Orlando in the first half. There was a brief head-to-head between the former teammates Hedo Turkoglu and Trevor Ariza. Both were given technicals and after a nerve-settling timeout, Ariza’s 3-point shot gave the Lakers their first lead, 42-40, with 5 minutes 9 seconds left in the first half. Ariza, who ended with 15 points, sank another and scrambled for two steals as part of a defining 16-0 run that lifted the Lakers to a 56-46 halftime lead. “They just always had an answer, Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We just couldn’t get over the top.” Bryant’s series-long scowl was replaced by another look in the first quarter as Orlando raced to a 15-6 lead. He grimaced on the bench and covered his face with a towel after losing the ball on a double team by Rashard Lewis and Lee in a tussle that appeared bother a nagging finger injury. Bryant resurfaced immediately with a stepback jumper and a 3-pointer and finished the quarter with 11 points. As the game pressed on, he showed no effects of the early aches. He embodied the championship path the Lakers took. They were damaged early and strong late. The Lakers began the postseason in lackluster fashion and struggled heavily against the decimated Houston Rockets in the second round, then gained their swagger as the playoffs wore on, dismissing the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals and finally, the Magic.

watched the third game when Magic won. it was a good game. Lakers showed some good moves and Magic made some awesome comebacks. Magic was strong with Howard in the team. Lakers was even stronger with Bryant and Fisher combined. but neither is my favorite. i’ve always support Miami Heat. hope they’ll do better next season. c’mon Wade.. article from The New York Times.


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