That was the best ugly game ever.
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It was no work of art. The winning team shot 32 percent. The pace was slow. The refs let them play, as evidenced by the scratches dripping blood on Pau Gasol’s arms after the game.
It was the kind of game the Celtics wanted.
But it was a game the Lakers won, 83-79. Los Angeles beat Boston at its own game. The Lakers were grittier. The Lakers were tougher and stronger. Boston was missing shots down the stretch and the Lakers hit them.
The Lakers are now back-to-back NBA champions. At the start of next season banner 16 will go up in Staples Center, just one shy of Boston’s record.
The Lakers did it behind Ron Artest — the one Laker who seemed unaffected by the pressure — who had 20 points including a key late three. They did it behind Gasol taking over late against a worn-down Celtics in the fourth quarter. They did it behind their own defensive effort.
“This is the sweetest,” Kobe said comparing this to his four previous titles. “We’ve been downplaying the whole series between us and the Celtics, and we had to focus on what we had to do, but we understood how bad the city wanted it, there’s no question about it. This one is by far the sweetest because it’s against then and because it’s the hardest one so far.”
It was hard because it was Boston’s kind of game. The Celtics came out playing physically on defense, taking away the Lakers primary options, forcing the Lakers to shoot 22 percent in the first quarter. Kobe Bryant wanted desperately to put his imprint on the game but Boston trapped him, they pushed him off his spots, and he shot 1 for 7 in the first quarter. And Boston was up 9 after one.
The Lakers shot just 26 percent for the first half. In the third quarter the lead climbed to 13 for Boston. Lakers fans were on edge.
But the size of the Lakers kept wearing on a Boston team that missed Kendrick Perkins (the starting center who tore two ligaments in his knee last game).
“I thought the lack of size at the end of the of the day was the difference in the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought a couple things hurt us – when Rasheed (Wallace) started getting cramps, that was killer for us because they attacked out lack of size after that, and then it made me, forced me to extend Kevin (Garnett’s) minutes, which I know is not good.”
Pau Gasol, “befuddled” by Wallace in the first half (to use Phil Jackson’s term), started to come to life. The Lakers were making their big run. Boston could no longer run its offense through the post because the Celtics big men were too tired to be effective, Rivers said.
So when Boston needed points, they turned to Ray Allen, the hero of Game 2. And he missed. He was 3 of 14 on the night, 2 of 5 in the fourth quarter. He was missing threes and missing layups.
It wasn’t just Allen.
“You know, it’s the fist time all year that you can actually say at the end of the day we were old because at the end of the game because we didn’t have enough bodies,” Rivers said, referring to Perkins. “I thought it hurt us.”
Meanwhile the Lakers made shots. Artest hit a key three. Derek Fisher hit a key three because it wouldn’t be a big game if Fisher didn’t hit a big shot. Kobe Bryant got Ray Allen to foul him on a three, then drained all the free throws.
Then Gasol grabbed a key offensive rebound. He out gritted the Celtics. Sort of like Artest had all night, a couple times just taking the ball away from Boston with physical force.
The finesse Lakers won ugly. And in Los Angeles that is a beautiful thing.