Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated another National Basketball Association title and got a measure of revenge.
Bryant scored 23 points as the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 83-79 last night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the NBA Finals came down to a decisive Game 7 for the third time in 22 years.
The Lakers erased a 13-point third-quarter deficit to claim their second straight championship and 16th overall. They pulled within one of Boston’s record total and avenged a loss to the Celtics in the NBA Finals two years ago.
“This is by far the sweetest because it’s against them,” Bryant said as confetti fell during the trophy presentation. “We’ve been downplaying the rivalry between us and the Celtics because we had to focus on what we had to do, but we understood how bad the city wanted it.”
The Lakers and Celtics have had one of sports’ most celebrated rivalries, winning 33 of the 64 NBA titles. The Lakers had lost all four previous Game 7 meetings against the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Bryant, who was named Most Valuable Player of the Finals for the second straight year, overcame a 6-for-24 shooting performance by making 11 of 15 free throw attempts, including eight in the fourth quarter.
It’s the fifth championship ring for Bryant, one more than Shaquille O’Neal, the same tally as Magic Johnson -- who accepted the trophy for the Lakers -- and one fewer than Michael Jordan. The Lakers are the first team to win back-to-back titles since Bryant teamed with O’Neal for three straight in Los Angeles from 2000-02.
Jacksons’ 11th Title
It’s the record-extending 11th title for Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who also won six in Chicago with Jordan. Jackson said after the game he’s unsure whether he’ll return as coach next season, saying he has to think about the decision.
“He knows how bad I want him back,” Bryant said. “I’ve been open and blunt about it and told him how much I want him back. Let’s go for it again.”
Boston, after losing Game 6 in Los Angeles by 22 points, held a 40-34 halftime lead and extended its advantage to 49-36 early in the third quarter.
Bryant and Pau Gasol combined to hit 6 of 26 shots in the opening 24 minutes, as the Lakers shot 26.5 percent as a team.
The Lakers fought back in the fourth quarter and took the lead for good on a pair of Bryant free throws with 5:56 remaining. Los Angeles outscored Boston 30-22 in the final 12 minutes and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the difference in the game was the Lakers’ 23-8 edge in offensive rebounds.
“It was a tough game for either team to lose,” Rivers said during a news conference. “Both teams played hard. Both teams played great defense. I thought the lack of size at the end of the day was the difference.”
Bryant grabbed 15 rebounds while Gasol finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds. Ron Artest added 20 points for the Lakers and hit a 3-pointer with one minute left that put Los Angeles up 79-73.
The Celtics pulled within 81-79 on a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo with 16 seconds left before Sasha Vujacic of the Lakers hit a pair of free throws for his only points of the game. When Rondo missed a 3-point attempt with four seconds left, Gasol grabbed the rebound and threw the ball down the court to run out the clock and start the Lakers’ celebration.
“It wasn’t well done, but it was done,” Jackson said. “We did it with perseverance. I thought our defense was great. We found a way to generate some points.”
Boston, which beat the Lakers in six games two years ago, was attempting to become the first visiting team in 30 years to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
“I told my guys after the game that I couldn’t be more proud,” Rivers said. “We’re not going be the same team next year. Guys are just not going to be there.”