Game 7 was an historic defensive war that will be remembered for generations to come not for a single defining play, but instead for its series of grueling mini-battles that made a monumental difference in deciding the outcome of the game. While devoid of an “MJ over Russell” type of moment, it was still very much ripe with drama and in a lot of cases, from unlikely sources. With two days gone by since the confetti-filled celebration at STAPLES, let’s take a look back at seven pivotal moments that helped lead the Lakers to their sixteenth NBA championship.
7:40, 2nd quarter: With the Lakers falling behind early and Kobe admittedly feeling the effects of a season of injuries, the forum blue and gold desperately needed someone to step up. Enter: Ron Artest. Kobe’s legs literally gave up on him during this play, forcing him into a difficult attempt that narrowly beat the shot clock buzzer, before missing badly. Luckily, Artest came to the rescue with a put-back that reclaimed the lead for the Lakers. Ron’s offensive board was one of a dominating 23 for the Lake Show on the night, compared to only eight for the Celtics.
1:22, 2nd quarter: The Lakers were desperate for a spark heading into halftime after Boston stymied their early second quarter momentum. Once again, it was Artest who literally and figuratively stepped up to the Celtics, refusing to back down after becoming entangled with Paul Pierce underneath the basket. The C’s came out with their fists up in Game 7 and though it isn’t something that will show up on the stat sheet, I think the team really needed someone to shake things up – a role Ron was practically born into.
3:48, 3rd quarter: Down by nine points with under four minutes to go in the third quarter, the Lakers were quickly arriving at fight or flight time. Lamar Odom, who had a timely seven points to go along with seven boards on the night, barreled down, channeled his inner Magic and sailed past Kevin Garnett for an easy layup that began the Lakers’ epic charge in the game’s final 15 minutes.
6:14, 4th quarter: Did anyone really think a Game 7 would go by without Derek Fisher putting his stamp on it? Fish did just that, nailing one of his signature rainbows from beyond the arc to tie the game at 64 nearing the halfway point of the fourth, immediately resulting in a timeout for Boston. While most people will probably remember Derek’s spellbinding fourth quarter performance in Game 3 of this series, his second of only two treys in Game 7 was every bit as meaningful.
5:22, 4th quarter: After finally getting over the proverbial hump to take a two point lead, Kobe took advantage of an isolation against Ray Allen, connecting on a jumper that pushed the lead to four. Bryant’s basket wasn’t anything special in and of itself, but who didn’t breathe a collective sigh of relief when that shot went down? Even in one of the worst shooting performances of his career, #24 still found a way to contribute down the stretch and his Game 7 performance should be remembered for that, not his field goal percentage. On a side note, this play was also significant as it came immediately after another crucial wide open second half miss from Allen. If just two or three of his 11 misses in 14 attempts goes down, we might be talking about a whole other topic right now.
1:56, 4th quarter: “The Spaniard” was one of the first people Kobe credited during the MVP trophy presentation and rightfully so. Like Bryant, Gasol struggled from the field, shooting only 6-16, yet he racked up 18 rebounds and two blocked shots – the most important of which came in the final two minutes of the game. With the Lakers clinging to a precarious four point lead, Pau delivered an emphatic message to the Celtics, blocking Pierce’s layup attempt before sinking his own shot under the hoop to give the Lakers a six point lead that they never relinquished. The final six minutes of the game in general were a role reversal from the previous three and a half quarters as it was the L.A., not Boston, who consistently responded to the Celtics’ mini rallies.
1:31, 4th quarter: Give the Celtics credit; they refused to back down even when it looked like they were dead in the water during the game’s final minute. Point and case: L.A. takes what looks to be a semi-commanding six point lead at 76-70 and Rasheed Wallace nails a three to bring it back to a one possession game. Thankfully, Game MVP Artest’s perfect timing isn’t just reserved for his post-game comedy routines as he delivered a three-point dagger that sent STAPLES Center into pandemonium. I’m not sure I was breathing at all for the final six minutes of the game, but Ron Ron’s triple was probably the closest I came to exhaling for the next half an hour. It was an especially fitting, if not ironic climax in a season where most fans screamed in horror every time Artest shot the ball from the perimeter. On Thursday, they serenaded him with cheers of joy instead.
An honorable mention goes to Sasha Vujacic for hitting the two most clutch free throws of the game and his life. His two freebies in the final seconds of the game encapsulated 48 punishing minutes of basketball that didn’t need a game-winning shot to transform Game 7 into an instant classic. This latest clash with the Celtics was won through a series of smaller moments that added up to one giant Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.