Fresh off a victory in the 2009 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers knew they had a title team as opposed to perhaps just thinking they had a championship roster. With that said, the Lakers wanted to make a small tweak to the roster and ended up perhaps changing the course of their fate with this seemingly small player transaction.
Trevor Ariza had played well under the tutelage of Phil Jackson and had perfectly complemented the Kobe-Gasol combo with his defense, spot up shooting as well as his ability to finish out in transition thanks to his athleticism. Mind you, he had now become a free agent and was looking to secure a long term deal that represented his value to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Instead, the franchise went in another direction and signed the artist formerly known as Ron Artest. The former St. John’s player had already manifested his interest in joining the team in a conversation with Kobe Bryant in the showers at the conclusion of the 2008 Finals — this actually happened — despite not actually playing in the championship series.
Metta World Peace was a bulldog.
In the 2009 playoffs, as member of the Houston Rockets, MWP had chased down Kobe after receiving an elbow simply to give him a piece of his mind and to ensure that such actions were never to reproduce themselves. His tough talk combined with his tough play earned him the respect of the Black Mamba, and the seeds had been planted for him to join the Lakers.
Mind you, as much as the move was done to help bolster the team, the acquisition of World Peace would give the Lakers a new blanket to put on the likes of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Paul Pierce should these teams meet in the postseason.
Indeed, Ron Ron was a physical defender that intimidated opponents with his strength, elbows and kiss blows. And yet, many thought that should the Lakers fail to repeat, it would be his fault given the loose canon stigma that followed him around since the Malice at the Palace.
The regular season was somewhat uninteresting by Lakers standards quite frankly.
They finished with a 57-25 record and finished 11th in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency. Part of the reason why the regular season was somewhat of a yawner was the fact that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum missed a combined 43 games. With players in and out of the lineup at times, and the players knowing they possessed championship pedigree, the regular season became a mere formality of sorts.
The most important thing for the team was that they be able to get by the 82-game schedule and start peaking by the time the postseason started with a healthy roster. This may sound obvious, but other teams tend to put more stock into the regular season, hoping that a top spot in the standings will earn them home court advantage in the postseason.
With Kobe Bryant playing on one leg by most accounts, the Los Angeles Lakers opened the postseason against a young up and coming Oklahoma City team that pushed the series to six games. The Lakers were victorious in Game 6 on the road and largely benefitted from the presence of Metta World Peace who hounded Kevin Durant into shooting 35 percent during the series.
The second round saw the purple and gold buy a quick cup of coffee in Utah, where they swept the Jazz in four games and defeated them by an average of plus-7.3 points.
The Western Conference Finals pitted the Lakers against one of Kobe’s most hated rivals: the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers won the first two home games by a combined 33 points, which had many thinking this might be another sweep. Mind you, Steve Nash and his Suns proved to be resilient at home and won the following two games by an average of nine points. The Lakers eventually bounced back and won the next two contests to close out the series thanks in large part to Kobe Bryant’s spectacular play.
The former league MVP torched Phoenix in the 2010 conference finals to the tune of 33.7 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 8.3 assists per game on 52.9 percent field goal shooting.
Just as this was happening, the Boston Celtics were busy taking out the Orlando Magic on the other side of the bracket, setting up a rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals that the Celtics won at the expense of the Lakers.
As fans, media members and players would find out, the 2010 NBA Finals would have it all. History, heart, talent, mental toughness, fatigue, broken bodies, seesaw matches, clutch shots and brilliant individual performances.
With the series tied at two games apiece, Lakers fans would watch Kobe Bryant singlehandedly keep his team within striking distance on the road in Boston with a masterful performance in which he just made shot after shot despite the terrific defense of the Celtics. Bryant would finish Game 5 of the 2010 finals with 38 points on 13-for-27 shooting and would get little help from his teammates as Los Angeles would lose the contest and be faced with a 2-3 series deficit with the games now going back to the Staples Center.
In Game 6, the Celtics would play like a team with a series advantage whereas the Lakers would play with a huge sense of desperation and blow out the road team and set up a winner take all Game 7.
The deciding game of the series would start with Kobe Bryant misfiring on several forced contested jump shots and his opponents would capitalize on the misses and take an early 23-14 first quarter lead. The Lakers would gradually claw back into the game thanks to their defense and rebounding. Indeed, by game’s end, L.A. would hold Boston to 79 points on 40.8 percent field goal shooting and would destroy the Celtics on the offensive glass, collecting 23 offensive rebounds to the C’s eight.
The Lakers would display the physical and mental toughness that was lacking in 2008 in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals by not only standing up to the Celtics; but by actually manhandling them.
The Lakers would have the confetti fall down on the court and see Kobe Bryant run the length of the court with the basketball and lifting his five ringers to remind everyone he had won his fifth title.
And yet, despite all the firepower on the roster, the Los Angeles Lakers might not have won the title if not for Metta World Peace’s 20 points as well as his timely shooting in the fourth quarter.
The 2010 Lakers would finish the postseason with a plus-4.3 average scoring margin and a 16-7 playoff record much like the 2009 edition. One would think that given the superior regular season record of the 2009 team, that they would outrank the 2010 unit and that is certainly a terrific argument.
However, the 2010 team played well as a unit despite injuries to key players during the regular season and played with a much sharper mental edge than the 2009 team. Statistically, the group that defeated Orlando in five games in the NBA Finals was better, but in terms of fight and resiliency, the 2010 squad that now had championship experience holds the edge.
It’s worth noting, that although it did not factor in their ranking; some fans may remember this team Lakers far longer than some of the other ones for two reasons:
I. They defeated the Boston Celtics
II. The words “Queensbridge” and “Kobe passed me the ball!” that were uttered by Ron Artest during postgame conferences after defeating Boston in Game 7. These are imprinted in the minds of anyone associated with the franchise in any way, shape or form.
The 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers conquered their demons and also happened to manage to be back-to-back champions, a feat that has become rather rare in the modern NBA. Without question, they were a great team and the title confirmed that. But as one reporter asked at the conclusion of the 2010 finals, we know what the championship meant to the team, but what could it also have meant to a single individual? The answer…
“I got one more than Shaq”