Kobe’s The MVP, But Gasol Is The Difference
How fitting that at the end of that ugly, body-banging, hand-wrestling, alley fight of a seventh game, Pau Gasol would be the one to snatch the final rebound and clinch the back-to-back NBA titles for the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant was deservedly the MVP of this series, but it’s Gasol who has made the whole difference for Jerry Buss’s team ever since he was acquired three years ago.
“I can’t say enough about the Spaniard,” gushed Bryant after that 83-79 adventure, and he’s right. Two years ago, Gasol was pushed around and roughed up by the Celtics, but this time, he was a different guy. He stood up to Kevin Garnett and the rest of those big bodies from Boston, and in the end, he and Kobe won out.
Gasol’s 19 points and 18 rebounds were huge in a game that never will be included in the league’s all-time highlight reel. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. What the Lakers needed on this night was perseverance.
Gasol gave it to them. On an evening when Kobe, who probably wanted it too much, was missing terribly from outside (6 of 24), their big center was the stabilizer, scoring in the paint and pounding the glass and sinking (barely) enough free throws when it mattered.
How crazy was this game that the Celtics led by 13 points in the third quarter? Crazy enough to have Ron Artest, whom no one wanted to take a big shot, knocking down a huge, pressurized 3-pointer with a minute left. Crazy enough to have Rajon Rando, whose one weakness is outside shooting, match Artest with his own big 3 in the final minute. Crazy enough to have Sasha Vujacic, of all people, standing at the free throw line in the final moments of the biggest game of the season, and coolly sinking both foul shots. Crazy enough to allow the Lakers to shoot 32.5 per cent from the field and still win.
And, best of all, crazy enough to have Artest go out of his way to thank his psychiatrist on national TV afterward. No, really. I’m not kidding.
Give the Celtics credit. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen emptied their tanks in this one. They showed bigtime heart, playing spectacular defense early and making crucial shots through three quarters.
But in the fourth period, they suddenly looked old and tired. At home, in Boston, before a raucous TD Garden crowd, they might have hung on. But they couldn’t do it here, not with Staples Center rocking and Kobe finally hitting a big jumper and several pivotal free throws down the stretch.
Rebounding is what really kept L.A. in this thing. The Lakers won the battle on the boards, 53 to 40, with Bryant grabbing a playoff-high 15 rebounds to offset his poor outside shooting.
Still, it was tense right down to the end. The Celtics never gave up. The Lakers just slowly and deliberately wore them down.
Finally, the curse of Game 7s against Boston is over. Phil Jackson, who now has won a jaw-dropping 11 NBA titles, is likely to be back, along with his two-time Finals MVP, of course.
And, oh yeah, Mr. Gasol will be returning also.
As long as Kobe’s favorite Spaniard is there to team up with him and Phil, this franchise should be right there, contending and winning rings for several years to come.
Artest’s psychiatrist? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
— Steve Bisheff