Lakers, champions again, winners 83-79 over the Celtics tonight for their second straight NBA title and No. 16 in their illustrious history.
It wasn't a beautiful Game 7.
But it was a classic.
And the Lakers found a way, digging deep to erase a big deficit in the third quarter to beat their biggest rival.
Phil Jackson's 11th championship, Kobe Bryant's fifth, and maybe the last gasp for the Celtics. Doc Rivers might decide it's time for a break. Ray Allen might go elsewhere. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren't getting any younger.
The draft's in a week.
Free agency starts a week after that.
Offseason? What offseason?
They've all thought about this situation.
One-possession game, 13 seconds left, title on the line.
The Celtics need a steal, or the Lakers to miss a free throw or two.
Still plenty of time, but if the Lakers execute, they'll win. The Celtics need help, but Rajon Rondo's 3-pointer gave them plenty of newfound life.
81-79 Lakers, a wild finish awaits.
Out of a time-out, Doc Rivers calls for a 3-pointer.
By Rasheed Wallace?
Sure enough, 'Sheed connects. Celtics have life.
For a moment, anyway. Ron Artest hits a 3-pointer at the other end, restoring the six-point lead, only to have Ray Allen connect to cut the lead in half again.
The Celtics just can't get the stop they need.
Kobe Bryant gets fouled by Wallace, his sixth, with 25.7 seconds left. Kobe hits both, and the Celtics need a miracle, down 81-76.
Biggest bounce of the Lakers' season.
Pau Gasol is triple-teamed in the post, throws it up, only to have his shot bounce off the front of the rim ... and then bounce again, this time dropping through the net.
Gasol ran toward the Lakers' bench, screaming.
They can sense it now. A second straight title. Kobe's 5th ring. Phil's 11th. And finally an end to this 0-for-forever hex in Game 7s against the hated Celtics.
Lakers 76-70, 1:20 remaining.
It's getting away from the Celtics.
Fouls on four straight Lakers possessions, and the Celtics have lost all their offensive identity.
L.A. is making most of their free throws now, and the Lakers lead 74-68 with 2:20 remaining.
Boston needs offense. Now. And the Celtics have no one rolling, either.
Here come the Lakers.
Er, here comes Kobe.
He makes the two free throws to give the Lakers their first lead of the second half, then jab-steps his way free of Ray Allen for another jumper on the next possession.
What slump? Just like that, it's 68-64 Lakers with 5:21 left. Lakers 15-7 scoring edge so far in the fourth.
Boston can't wait much longer. If this lead gets to six or eight, the job becomes immeasurably harder for the Celtics.
Nothing free about free throws.
They might cost the Lakers the NBA title.
Down by 1, Pau Gasol just went to the line looking to give the Lakers the lead.
Followed by ... clank.
The Lakers are 13 for 23 from the foul line tonight. Gasol is 2 for 7 by himself.
But when play resumes with 5:57 left, Kobe Bryant will go to the line, looking to put the Lakers on top after he just got leveled going for a rebound.
Tied at 64, for the moment.
We're tied with 7:29 left. Ron Artest flashes across the lane, gets the ball, gets a bump and converts a three-point play.
Tied at 61.
Doc Rivers doesn't wait long, Rajon Rondo and Rasheed Wallace come back in, Nate Robinson and Glen Davis go to the bench.
And think nerves are kicking in?
Ray Allen just missed a free throw, his first in 22 attempts in these finals.
Rajon Rondo might be the best in the NBA at making the pass that only his guy can reach.
After Glen Davis knocks a pass away and keeps the Lakers from tying the game, Rondo throws a pass that scrapes the top of Staples Center (exaggeration for effect) and comes down only where Kevin Garnett can catch it.
KG grabs it, lays it off the glass and in for a four-point lead. Right now, to the guys in green, a two-possession game feels a whole lot better than a one-possession one, for certain.
Celtics 59-55, 9 minutes left.
Mark Jackson just made a great observation on ABC. Keeping Kobe Bryant on the bench to start the fourth might be a brilliant move by Phil Jackson.
(Hey, the man does have 10 rings.)
Instead of Kobe coming out for the fourth feeling like he has to do everything, Phil lets him sit and steady himself for the push that will decide this season's title.
Kobe comes in after 53 seconds. It might have been a very calming 53 seconds.
Celtics 57-55, 11:07 left for the title.
Last quarter of the season awaits. Celtics lead 57-53 with 12 minutes remaining.
Kobe Bryant is 5 for 20 from the field, and the Lakers are still very much in this thing, despite shooting 31 percent. Hey, that's actually an improvement!
There has been no offensive rhythm to this thing whatsoever, which makes you wonder if there is going to be that one stretch of scoring that ultimately decides the 2010 NBA champion.
The fourth quarter has been, by far, the roughest for the Lakers throughout the playoffs. They're shooting just 41.5 percent in the fourth during the postseason, compared with at least 46 percent in every other quarter.
Derek Fisher returned to the Lakers' bench with 45 seconds left in the third, by the way.
Make no mistake, Rasheed Wallace has been huge for the Celtics tonight.
This is why the Celtics signed him, to play big in big games, though no one thought he'd be called upon to start a Game 7.
Eight points, eight rebounds so far in 29 minutes.
Not spectacular numbers at first glance, but remember, 'Sheed's back is about as fluid these days as a saltine cracker.
Without him, Boston would be toast.
Meanwhile, Derek Fisher has gone to the locker room to get his leg checked out after an awkward tumble.
Celtics 57-51, 2:12 left 3rd.
___ Paul Pierce sat for 62 seconds, enough time for whatever the nerve issue is in that shoulder to calm down.
The Lakers are calming down a bit as well.
A 12-point deficit a minute ago has been cut in half, and the requisite Lakers' run has officially started.
Lamar Odom gets a rebound on the defensive end, makes a crisp outlet pass to start the break, then sprints down to lay in a miss off yet ... another ... offensive rebound.
Boston might want to think about contesting those.
Celtics 51-45, 5:38 left 3rd.
Paul Pierce is hurt.
We've said that a lot this season, but Pierce is holding that problematic right shoulder, the one that sparked the brouhaha against the Heat in the first round and has been a problem for months.
It's a nerve issue, Pierce has said.
Tony Allen checks in. Pierce won't be out for long.
Celtics 49-37, 8:15 left 3rd.
More of the same for the Lakers as the second half gets under way.
Ron Artest scores off yet another offensive rebound for the defending champs' first hoop of the third quarter, but the Lakers still can get nothing going from the outside.
Rajon Rondo just threw a perfectly placed pass to Kevin Garnett, setting up a three-point play. Kobe Bryant – now with an unquestionably angry look on his face – comes down on the ensuing possession, forces a long jumper, and it clangs off the rim like so many others tonight.
Rondo answers in the lane, and all of a sudden, we have our first double-digit difference of Game 7.
Celtics 47-36, 9:35 left in the third.
Gut-check time for the Lakers has arrived.
Halftime in Game 7. Ron Artest has a game-high 12 points, and the Celtics lead 40-34.
Artest has kept the Lakers in this thing, plain and simple.
Kobe Bryant has eight points. Pau Gasol, six. Andrew Bynum, two. The Lakers have taken 49 shots and missed a dizzying 36 of them. They had 10 GAMES this season where they missed 36 shots or less, and they just did it in a half, with an NBA title on the line?
The Lakers needed someone to step up, and lo and behold, it was Artest – who's been offensively invisible for much of the finals.
Kobe, by the way, is 3 for 14 from the floor. The common thought was that Bryant would have a huge night. Hasn't happened yet.
Paul Pierce has 11 for the Celtics, who have five other players with five or six points apiece.
What happens at the break?
Doc Rivers tells the Celtics to do exactly what they're doing defensively, and that one big scoring spurt might be enough to win the title.
Phil Jackson tells the Lakers that they're getting good shots and it's a matter of time before they start to fall.
They'll both be correct.
See you in the third quarter.
Rasheed Wallace, peacemaker.
It's come to this?
Ron Artest and Paul Pierce got locked up under the basket with 1:22 left in the half, and of all people, 'Sheed is the one who breaks them up?
You see odd things in Game 7s.
Neither Artest nor Pierce did much of anything, just neither would give any ground, either. Double technicals called, which surely didn't please either Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers.
Meanwhile, Artest makes both FTs and has 11 points in the quarter.
Celtics 38-33, 1:11 left 'til the break.
Kevin Garnett gets his third foul with 4:53 to play in the half.
This means the Lakers will have to watch Glen Davis down low, Paul Pierce on the wing and Ray Allen on the perimeter – all at the same time.
That's actually been the formula that has worked best for the Celtics many times in this series.
Yes, the C's lose something without KG's rebounding and defense. But the Celtics aren't rebounding anyway.
Tied at 29, 3:20 left in the half.
Lakers had scored the first 11 points of the second quarter, before Rajon Rondo knifed through for a layup that tied the game at 25.
Rare that a road team can give up an 11-0 run in a huge game like this and come out OK, but that's what the Celtics have apparently done.
Most of the scoring so far tonight has come by going to the rim.
These teams have struggled from the perimeter throughout this series, and Game 7 hasn't changed that. Lakers are 1 for 8 from 3-point range, Celtics 1 for 7.
Tied at 25, 5:59 left in the half.
The Lakers have been simply dominant at times in this series on the offensive glass.
Never better than tonight.
"No rebounds, no rings," right? Someone reminded the Lakers of that before Game 7, clearly, because the Western Conference champs have an 11-2 edge on the offensive glass early.
Now, sure, part of that is because the Lakers have missed so many shots. If you don't miss a lot, you can't get a lot of offensive boards, naturally.
But it shows the effort is there. A lot of teams go into funks when shooting poorly. Not the Lakers, not so far tonight.
Celtics 23-19, 9:25 left 2nd.
Early foul trouble again. First Gasol, and now, Kevin Garnett.
And it was a good call.
All he had to do with 1:20 left in the opening quarter was hold his ground and let Rajon Rondo slice behind him for an early layup.
Instead, KG thought he was a wide receiver and went into downfield-blocking mode. Easy call.
So Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis are on the court together now for the Celtics, which hasn't happened much (in meaningful minutes, anyway) in these finals. And Davis is looking very much like the force he was in Game 4, with six points in the opening quarter.
Lakers are shooting atrociously – 6 for 27 from the floor, 22 percent. Pau Gasol, 2 for 8. Kobe Bryant, 1 for 7.
Celtics shooting 59 percent. Who saw that disparity coming, in L.A., in a Game 7? Not many people outside the commonwealth of Massachusetts, for sure.
Celtics 23-14 after one.
If you're a Celtics fan, you have to like the way they've weathered the early storm.
Staples Center is still into it, of course, but the Boston bench has more than held its own on the cheerleader front.
And Pau Gasol just got his second foul after running over Paul Pierce on a pass.
Celtics 19-14, 2:15 left 1st.
A lot of contact early, as Kobe Bryant gets pulled down by Rasheed Wallace going for a loose ball a couple minutes ago.
This much is clear – you will not see tight whistles in the early going tonight.
And it'll take time for players to adjust to that – great example came with about 7 minutes left in the quarter, when the Celtics played body-up defense against Kobe with Ray Allen on him and Paul Pierce doubling down from the wing. Bryant responded by taking a wild shot off the side of the backboard.
Earlier in the series, Allen would have been called for a ticky-tack foul and Kobe would have been on the line.
Celtics 10-9, 5:55 left in the opening quarter.
It was Rasheed Wallace, as expected, at center for the Celtics in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins.
Lakers went at him right away on the first possession, and 'Sheed stood his ground.
There'll be a feeling-out period for the first few minutes, but things should settle down quickly. Another good sign for the Lakers: Derek Fisher just hit his first 3-pointer of the series to get the Game 7 scoring started.
Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and coach Phil Jackson ought to get together and coordinate things with the U.S. Golf Association.
In short, they should want the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach every year.
Golf's national championship started today at Pebble, just a couple of Tiger Woods drives (more or less) from Staples Center. It's the fifth time the Open has been at Pebble, the others being 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2000.
In '72, '82 and '00, the Lakers won the NBA title.
In '92, it was the Chicago Bulls – Phil Jackson's Bulls.
Good omen for the Lakers.
Never doubt a great player.
That's why Dwyane Wade thinks Kobe Bryant will have just enough tonight to win his fifth title.
No animosity toward Boston, considering the Celtics ousted Wade's Miami Heat in the opening round of these playoffs, but Wade says that he believes a Game 7, at home, for all the marbles could bring out Bryant's greatness.
"It's going to be up in the air," Wade was telling The AP earlier today. "I want to say L.A. because they're the home team and I think Kobe is a great player and with the other talent around him they can will themselves to a win, but I really don't know. Boston has shown they can win on the road and they've shown if they can stick around, it'll be a battle, but my gut feeling says L.A. pulls it out."
Wade also says the Kendrick Perkins injury situation – Boston's center is a no-go tonight because of a knee injury suffered in Game 6 – is more significant than a lot of people realize.
"People say, well, they have more offense with Rasheed Wallace out there, but the defense that Perkins plays on Pau Gasol, the screens he sets, the toughness that he brings to the game is going to be missed tremendously," Wade says. "That's one thing, if anything, they had over the Lakers was their overall grit and they're losing a big part of that in Perkins."
Lakers guard Derek Fisher started his day early. BlackBerry in hand at 9:14 a.m. Los Angeles time, to be precise.
"Drive for 5," he wrote on Twitter.
More Twitter fun: Kim Kardashian, the sister-in-law of Lakers forward Lamar Odom, announced she had "Army Green" fingernail polish on earlier today. Since that'd be construed as Celtic Green, Kardashian asked her 3,866,624 followers if she should paint them purple or gold. (An hour later, she posted a picture of newly done purple nails, as did sister Khloe, otherwise known as Mrs. Odom.)
Purple nails. Also self-explanatory.
There were Tweets-a-plenty as the day rolled along about Game 7, including:
Rajon Rondo: "Its now or never"
Nate Robinson: "Closer to my dreams is reality today"
And Chris Bosh, who will try to move closer to a championship when free agency starts in two weeks: "Game 7 tonight! This is going to be a game that everyone remembers forever."
Tonight's officials, and there should be no shock over these selections, are Joe Crawford, Dan Crawford and Scott Foster.
Joe Crawford had the foulfest disguised as Game 1.
Dan Crawford worked Game 3, also won by the Lakers. Foster had Game 4, when the Celtics prevailed.
It'd be stunning if the referees did anything differently tonight than in any other game this season (except maybe give a tiny bit more leeway on things like double-technicals and the like), but because every aspect of a Game 7 in the finals gets dissected 78 different ways, here's how the Celtics and Lakers have done with those three whistleblowers this season:
Celtics with Joe Crawford – 6-4 overall, 2-2 playoffs, 1-0 finals.
Lakers with Joe Crawford – 9-2 overall, 3-2 playoffs, 0-1 finals.
Celtics with Dan Crawford – 6-5 overall, 2-1 playoffs, 0-1 finals.
Lakers with Dan Crawford – 6-3 overall, 3-1 playoffs, 1-0 finals.
Celtics with Scott Foster – 6-4 overall, 2-1 playoffs, 1-0 finals.
Lakers with Scott Foster – 7-1 overall, 4-1 playoffs, 0-1 finals.
Game 7. Lakers-Celtics.
Those few words ought to be enough to send shivers up and down the spine of any basketball fan.
This season that started with 30 title hopefuls 234 days ago comes down to this, two teams, 24 players, a slew of future Hall of Famers, and one gold trophy that's going to be smudged with fingerprints of joy in about three hours.
It's the first time Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant have been part of a Game 7 in the finals. Which shouldn't matter whatsoever, although it's become a big story line the past two days. (For comparison's sake, Kevin Garnett is 3-0 all time in Game 7s.)
Here's what Jackson was saying an hour or so ago, in his final pregame news conference of the season: "I'm keyed up. I mean, I think it's natural to be keyed up. But I think every final game has its own level. But I don't think it's any more than normal about a game that has as much importance as this has."
And when he walked into Staples Center tonight, the Celtics' Paul Pierce said, "It's what you all wanted, right? Lakers versus Celtics. Game 7. All the marbles, baby."
All the marbles, indeed.
Tip-off, a few minutes away.