LOS ANGELES – Purple and gold confetti raining down upon him, Kobe Bryant hopped up on the scorer’s table, shook his fists and extended five fingers.
When he hopped down, Boston’s legendary Hall of Fame center Bill Russell was waiting to shake his hand.
A Game 7 classic – and this time, it finally went the Lakers’ way.
Bryant, the finals MVP, scored 23 points despite 6-of-24 shooting, and the Lakers won their 16th NBA championship Thursday night, dramatically rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Celtics 83-79 in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
Bryant earned his fifth title with the Lakers, who repeated as NBA champions for the first time since winning three straight from 2000-02. Coach Phil Jackson added his 11th, matching Russell’s total and possibly putting a cap on his remarkable career if he decides to leave the Lakers.
“This one is by far the sweetest, because it’s them,” Bryant said after the Lakers beat Boston for the first time in a Game 7. “This was the hardest one by far. I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up.”
Ron Artest added 20 points for the Lakers, who didn’t exactly show a champion’s poise while making just 21 shots in the first three quarters, even hovering around 50 percent at the free-throw line.
Yet with Bryant driving the lane to earn eight free throws and Pau Gasol finally coming alive with nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles reclaimed the lead midway through and hung on with a few more big shots from Gasol, who had 18 rebounds, and a remarkable clutch performance by Artest, a first-time champion as the only newcomer to last season’s roster.
“Well, first of all I want to thank everybody in my hood,” Artest said in an ABC interview right after the game. “I definitely want to thank my doctors … my psychiatrist, she really helped me relax a lot.”
With their fifth title in 11 seasons, the Lakers moved one championship behind Boston’s 17 titles for the overall NBA lead. After downplaying the NBA’s best rivalry for two weeks, Bryant acknowledged this banner will loom just a little larger than the rest in those Staples Center rafters, given the opponent, the Game 7 stakes and the history they just made. The teams have met in 12 NBA finals, but the Lakers won for just the third time.
Jackson won his fifth ring in Los Angeles to go with his half-dozen from Chicago. And it might be the last: Weary of the regular-season grind and facing a likely pay cut with the Lakers, Jackson hasn’t determined his future, though he previously said another title would make him more likely to chase an unprecedented fourth threepeat next season, when he’ll be 65.
“I’ve got to take a deep breath. I’ve got to take some time to think about this,” Jackson said, wearing a satisfied grin underneath his championship hat. “This was great. I’ll wait to make that decision in a week.”
Paul Pierce had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who just couldn’t finish the final quarter of a remarkable playoff run after a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Garnett added 17 points, but Boston flopped in two chances to clinch the series in Los Angeles after winning Game 5 back home.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers knows changes are coming, even saying afterward that the ’10-11 Celtics will be different than the ’09-10 team.
“We were the tightest, most emotional, crazy group I’ve ever been around in my life,” Rivers said.
Former Gonzaga University star Adam Morrison will pick up his second ring as a member of the Lakers, though he didn’t see any playing time in the finals. He was in the final year of his contract.
“There’s a lot of crying in that locker room,” Rivers said. “A lot of people who care. I don’t think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That’s a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared.”
The Celtics had never lost a seventh game in the finals.