Lakers’ 31-year-old superstar Kobe Bryant “couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean,” as the late Hall-of-Fame announcer Chick Hearn used to say, a product of cumulative fatigue and nerves in the 7th and last game of the NBA Finals, eking out a narrow victory beating the Boston Celtics 83-79 Sept. 17. Nineteen-thousand screaming fans, drained from exhaustion watching the Lakers and Celtics battle to the wire, watched a slugfest, characterized by a smothering defense and too many fouls, leaving the world’s best basketball players looking inept and clumsy. Game 7 treated a global audience with a 28 Nielson Rating market share, the most watched NBA Final since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls battled the Karl Malone’s Utah Jazz for the title in 1998. Jordan, of course, won. Officials in the Laker-Celtic’s Game 7 were put into a no-win situation, calling too many or too few fouls.
With all the hype leading to Game 7, after the Lakers throttled the Celtics in an elimination Game 6 at Staples Center June 15, players on both teams showed too much adrenalin not enough control, bumbling through the first quarter, with the Celtics showing slightly more composure leading 40-34. “I wanted it so, so bad,” said Kobe at his post-game interview. “On top of that, I was on E, Man. I was really, really tired, and the more I tried to push, the more it kept getting away from me,” attributing his off-night to fatigue, not nerves. Anyone watching the game saw the world’s best player rushing his shots, unable to find a rhythm and clanking shots off the iron. Kobe and his teammates were psyched-out by the Celtic mystique, having lost in Laker history nine-of-eleven finals. Only newly acquired former Houston Rocket forward Ron Artest rose to the occasion, just enough to beat the Celtics.
While Kobe won the “series” MVP, 64-year-old Laker Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged that Artest was indeed the most valuable player of Game 7. Without Artest’s 20 point, 5-steal performance, the Celtics’ would have celebrated on the Lakers’ home-court. Kobe shot a dismal 6-for-24 from the field, grateful that 8-for-9 free throws bailed him out, adding to his mediocre [for Kobe] 23 point total. “This one is by far the sweetest, because it’s them,” Kobe admitted, referring to his past denials that Boston made any difference. “This was the hardest one by far. I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up,” admitting that nerves, not fatigue, affected his play. Kobe praised his teammate Pau Gasol on the victory stand but forgot to publicly acknowledge Artest’s game-winning performance in Game 7.
Shooting only 32%, the Lakers missed a whopping 12 free throws. Once Kobe realized his shooting was off, he cranked up the “D,” holding three-point specialist Ray Allen, Boston’s hero in Game 2 at Staples Center, breaking the NBA playoff three-point shooting record at eight, to only 2 points in over 45-plus minutes. In addition to shutting down Allen, Kobe collected 15 rebounds, adding to the Lakers’ advantage of 53-40. Kobe collected the MVP award from former Celtic legend Bill Russell, who, along with other Boston stars, watched the Celtics go down. Kobe’s lack of clutch shooting in Game 7 raises at least one nagging controversy of whether or not he’s in the same conversation as six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan. Artest’s heroics salvaged the Lakers’ season, making general manager Mitch Kupchak a genius for bringing former Houston Rockets’ forward to the Lakers.
Coach Phil Jackson, who hasn’t yet decided to return for next season, agonized with the rest of Lakers’ fans at Staples Center and in TV-land. “Well, it’s done. It wasn’t well done, but it was done,” Jackson said in his post-game interview. He remembered all too well the shellacking the Lakers took in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, losing by 39 points. Jackson, who suffers from a variety of health issues, will, in all likelihood, return for another possible Laker three-peat. Boston, on the other hand, faces personnel decisions, probably keeping them from the final’s hunt next year. Breathing down their neck is a hungry Cleveland team, which, if LeBron James returns with some extra heft next year, will most certainly challenge the Orlando Magic for a trip to the finals. Unlike Boston, the Lakers, with a healthy center Andrew Bynum, have a good shot of repeating.
Watching the Lakers rally from 13 points down in the third quarter to pull out the “V” undoes some of the agony watching one of the most painful games on record. No NBA fans want to watch poor shooting and clumsy turnovers. Boston’s roughshod so-called East Coast defense eventually backfired, inhibiting the Celtics consistent offensive rhythm. Game 7 looked more like an NCAA National Championship, where college players typically bite-and-scratch their way to victory. NBA officials must find a way to let the leagues’ best teams play their best games, rather than bore fans with a brutal defensive battle. Neither team showed the kind of brilliance that made them a joy to watch in the playoffs or regular season. While there’s always a victor and a vanquished, the fans lose when both teams in a Game 7 play ugly and brawl their way to an NBA championship.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.