Honesty compels me to start this column by acknowledging that I predicted that the Celtics would defeat the Lakers. However, as you know, they did not. I could now weasel word my prediction by pointing out that their starting center Kendrick Perkins suffered an injury and was unable to play in either game six or game seven. However, I will not do that. I was wrong. His presence in the game would not necessarily have changed the outcome. However, Lakers fan will admit that Perkins was quite a load, and a very important part of their team.
His victory was a testimonial to the iron will of Kobe Bryant. During the regular season, many fans had conceded the Championship to either Cleveland, Orlando, or Boston. This appeared to be the year that the unstoppable LeBron James would get his first ring. He appeared to be irresistible force that could no longer be stopped. He was also judged to be the league's Most Valuable Player.
The feeling that the Lakers could not win this year was reinforced by the problems that they had with the Oklahoma Thunder. In some of the games, Kevin Durant and his track star teammates nearly ran the Lakers off the court. After barely surviving that series, they ran into Coach Alvin Gentry and the zone defense employed by his Phoenix Suns. For a couple of the games, they did not seem to have a clue as to what they should do. However, as difficult as it was, they did manage to prevail.The Lakers had to face the Celtics, and they were worried. They were hoping to get at least 20 minutes of play from the still injured Andrew Bynum. Lacking that, their chances didn't seem so good. The team was still carrying the mental scars from the trouncing that the Celtics had given them in 2008. Bryant insisted that the Lakers could beat the Celtics, but he had many skeptics, and some of them were wearing Purple and Gold.
Even when things did not go well, Bryant refused to accept the possibility of defeat. He challenged himself and his teammates to learn this Championship. Ironically, he was both a part of the solution, while simultaneously being part of the problem. He is arguably the most talented player in the NBA, and the most driven. In addition, he has also assumed the role of both coach and critics of his teammates.
He has also established a culture which does not allow his coach, or teammates to criticize him. This is true, even when he makes boneheaded plays. He usually makes several in each of the games. He also demands the absolute right to take the final shot in any game, when the outcome is still in doubt. He is the only one who has the power to rein himself in, but he seems to feel entitled to behave as he does. The result of his behavior is that some members of the team, especially the younger ones, always defer to him. They want to play as well as they can, after they have received his approval. He can dribble the ball, and turn it over, but they cannot. He can take an ill-advised shot and miss, but they cannot. The younger players and those on the bench clearly understand that if they do not get along with Bryant, they will likely be traded. So, they keep their mouths shut, and do the best that they can. When they are on the court, and Bryant is taking a rest, all of the other players perform better.
Bryant essentially wanted to win this Series by himself. However, by that time that game seven arrived, he was both physically and mentally exhausted. He could not summon his Will of Iron, and he made only six of 24 shots. Fortunately, for him the Lakers and their fans, there was Pao Gasol, Ron Artest, and Derek Fisher there to share the burden. Will he learn from this? Probably not.
If Bynum recovers from his injury in the off-season, the Lakers will have the personnel to seriously challenge for the Championship next year. In addition to Bynum, they can expect improved performance from father to be, Lamar Odom. Let us also hope that the newly improved Ron Artest becomes a model of stability. I do expect that Jackson will coach the team next year and possibly for several more. I think that he absolutely enjoys the attention that he gets, when he indicates that this might be his last year coach. However, keep in mind; I picked the Celtics to win.
I want to also mention that I think that coach Doc Rivers got the absolute maximum from his team. They did not win, but they left everything that they had out there on the floor. They were terribly disappointed but they should have the satisfaction of not having to second guess themselves.
Regrettably, it is a sign of our times that there was some vandalism after the game was over. The vandalism and criminal activity was done by fans who were supposed to be 'happy.' Therefore, you can assume that it would have been much worse if the Lakers had lost. There will be less of that kind of criminal behavior in the future, since the miscreants were recorded on video cameras, and are now being tracked down and arrested. Have a nice day.