Thursday, June 17, 2010
Lakers willed themselves to title
By Rick Fox
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
Editor's note: Rick Fox offers a unique view of the latest NBA Finals showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, having worn the uniforms of both teams. He was a Celtic from 1991 to '97 and a Laker from 1998 to 2004, winning three championships in purple and gold.
Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Who could play in a game like this and not feel nervous?
Any player who tells you he doesn't feel the pressure is not being honest.
But your nerves can take you in one of two directions. You can play the game of your life or you can disappear.
I know I had nervous energy when I played in big games and, fortunately, I was able to respond in a positive manner.
There is no question both teams were feeling it in Thursday night's title-clinching victory for the Lakers, resulting in a game that, while hard-fought, was certainly not the prettiest to watch.
The Lakers shot 32.5 percent from the floor, including 22.2 percent in the first quarter.
Even Kobe Bryant struggled uncharacteristically on offense, hitting just 6-of-24 shots from the floor, including 0-for-6 from the 3-point line.
He still had a game-high 23 points and connected on 8-of-9 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
But great players, such as Kobe, recognize that there are many ways to affect a game. And he knew that the winning team in each of the previous six games of this series was also the team that had the most rebounds.
So what Kobe may have lacked at times on offense Thursday, he made up for on the boards, pulling down 15 rebounds.
Pau Gasol made an even bigger contribution in the rebounding department, collecting 18, including nine on the offensive boards where the Lakers had a commanding 23-8 edge over the Celtics.
It was that edge that allowed the Lakers to stay close until their offense finally kicked into gear.
It was exactly two years ago Thursday that the Lakers suffered their humiliating 39-point loss to Boston in the game that clinched the 2008 championship for the Celtics.
And Gasol had to endure a long summer of listening to critics call him too soft to handle the Celtics. Hopefully, performances like his on Thursday night will finally bury that kind of talk.
As Derek Fisher said after Thursday's game about 2008, "We have to stop thinking about that."
Ron Artest got his share of criticism this season on offense. But he shut his detractors up Thursday night by coming up with his most important offensive performance in the biggest game of his life, scoring a badly needed 20 points.
Artest may have been the only individual on the Lakers who wasn't affected by the pressure of a Game 7 because he didn't know better. He had never been this far. In a situation like this, you want the guy who is free, loose and a bit of a wild card.
To Artest, it was no different than being on the playground back where he started in Queensbridge, N.Y.
I have to admit that I was surprised the Celtics got this far, surprised that they beat the two winningest teams in the league, Cleveland and Orlando, and came within four points of the Lakers. I thought of the Celtics as an old team.
They won't get any younger next season so, again, I don't expect to see them in the Finals anytime in the near future.
This may have been Kobe's only chance to complete his resume by beating them.
As for the Lakers, I still have one question. With all his fingers and two thumbs already covered, where will Phil Jackson put his 11th championship ring?
Maybe he'll finally give a ring to Jeanie.