ORLANDO, Fla. | Mission accomplished.
A year after an embarrassing showing in the NBA Finals against their historical rivals, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers completed their redemption tour. With a 99-86 victory Sunday night over the Orlando Magic, Kobe Bryant & Co. won the series and the NBA title by a 4-1 margin.
Sparked by an 11-point second-quarter from Trevor Ariza, the Lakers dug their way out of an early hole to post a 10-point halftime lead before slamming the door on Amway Arena and the Magic, who next season will open a new building downtown.
In guiding the Lakers to their 15th championship, coach Phil Jackson won his record 10th ring as a coach, breaking a tie with Red Auerbach, who steered the Celtics to nine titles.
“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. And they pushed themselves, and I really feel strongly that this is about them,” said Jackson, who guided the Chicago Bulls to six championships. “However, having won 10 championships is a remarkable accomplishment. There’s no doubt about it. Watching those games clicked down and a championship of all different forms and fashions, on the road, at home, players that vault themselves into team play is a remarkable thing to have watched.”
Kobe Bryant scored 30 points to earn his fourth ring and the first NBA Finals MVP honor of his career after averaging 32.4 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds for the series. Despite playing on the road, Bryant was serenaded with chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P!” every time he stepped to the foul line, just as if he were in Los Angeles.
“It feels like I’m dreaming right now. I can’t believe this moment is here,” said Bryant, who has spent the past seven years trying to win a championship without Shaquille O’Neal. “It feels like a big, old monkey is off my back. Just feels so good this moment is here. We tried not to visualize it too much because you can get too excited, but this moment is finally here now. All the work from this season, and now we’re here.”
Lamar Odom added 17 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, Ariza finished with 15 points and five rebounds, Gasol tallied 14 rebounds and 15 points and Derek Fisher chipped in with 13 points for Los Angeles.
The victory was Los Angeles’ most authoritative win of the series since the 25-point Game 1 blowout.
In the opening minutes Sunday, it appeared the series just might shift back to Los Angeles. The Magic attacked a flat-looking Lakers squad and took a 15-6 lead before Jackson called a timeout five minutes into the game.
Whatever was said did the trick. The Lakers came charging back to pull within 28-26 heading into the second. Leading the Lakers run was Bryant, who scored 11 of his team’s 20 points.
The Magic managed to stall the Lakers’ barrage briefly, remaining in front until five minutes remained in the half. Bryant got an outlet pass, raced up the floor and sucked defenders to him. Just after crossing the 3-point arc, he zipped the ball over to a wide-open Ariza, who promptly made the 3-pointer.
Odom pulled down a rebound on the opposite end, and Bryant knocked down a 14-foot jumper to give the Lakers a 44-40 lead and force the Magic to call a timeout. It did nothing to slow the Lakers, however. Ariza buried another 3, and Fisher flipped in a layup to cap a 13-0 scoring run and induce another Orlando timeout with 3:40 left in the second quarter.
The run reached 16-0 before a layup from Rafer Alston with 2:36 left in the quarter made it 52-42. The Lakers went in at halftime holding a 56-46 lead thanks greatly to Ariza. Also aiding Los Angeles’ cause were Orlando’s seven turnovers and 8-for-20 shooting in the second.
“I thought we got to a great start, and they did a very good job weathering the storm,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We hit that second quarter and didn’t handle the ball well at all and gave them easy opportunities. … I thought we played well in the second half; they just had an answer for everything.”
Orlando’s shooting woes continued in the third quarter, when it made only five of 19 field goals (1-for-7 from 3-point range). The Magic managed to cut the lead to 58-53 with 7:45 left in the third, but the Lakers went on an 18-8 tear, and the advantage reached 76-61 heading into the fourth quarter.
The lead dipped to 95-84 thanks to a J.J. Redick 3-pointer. But when time was called with 1:12 left, the Orlando fans started flooding to the exits, and the Lakers began allowing themselves to savor the moment - grinning, hugging, shaking hands and high-fiving.
“They’re a damned good team. It’s always hard to sort out: How much of it’s you playing poorly? How much of it is them playing well?” Van Gundy said. “It’s hard to sort out, but when a team wins the championship, it’s the thing to do to give them the credit rather than bemoan the way we played.”
• Mike Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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