Lakers' Game 7 NBA Finals victory over Boston provides many applicable lessons
The on-court celebration, the Champagne bath and the glowing offseason that followed after the Lakers secured the 2010 NBA championship over the Boston Celtics are becoming a distant memory in Lakerland.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said he hasn't watched a replay of the Lakers' 83-79 Game 7 victory over Boston, insisting all the memories surrounding his six-of-24 shooting performance, his effort in grabbing 15 rebounds, his reliance on teammates to help carry the load and all the aches and pains that came with his sprained right knee and a fractured right index finger remain fresh in his mind. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson admitted to watching a replay of the game during the offseason, but has given it little thought since. And Lakers point guard Derek Fisher shared much of his personal reflection surrounding his fifth title and the franchise's 16th championship only took place during the offseason and the early portion of the Lakers' 2010-11 regular-season schedule.
The Lakers (33-13) have plenty of other things to worry about entering Sunday's game at Staples Center against the Boston Celtics (34-10) than waxing nostalgiac about their second consecutive championship, most notably whether the Lakers will respond in appropriate fashion after an underwhelming loss Friday to a sub-.500 opponent in the Sacramento Kings. But Fisher understands why the conversation returned about the Lakers' title run. "Obviously because with the matchup tomorrow," Fisher said, "certain thoughts obviously about playing them in the Finals last year come back into your mind." And the way the Lakers won Game 7 yields plenty of applicable lessons the team can take into any situation.
Play as a team
Fisher didn't exactly want to draw too much from Game 7, arguing "there are lots of good and bad examples we can pick from this season that have teaching moments." Fair enough. The magnitude of the Lakers' game against Boston nowhere matches Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Lakers have different personnel in Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Joe Smith, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, and they don't have certain members from last season's championship roster, including Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Adam Morrison, Josh Powell, and DJ Mbenga. And the Lakers' quest in establishing defensive consistency, maintaining the same edge and maintaining health in the regular season juxtaposes the Game 7 priorities, which included simply finding a way to win the game.
Still, there's a reason why Jackson devoted part of a 2 1/2-hour practice Saturday by having the team rewatch the Lakers' 89-67 Game 6 victory. That effort included a balanced offense with Bryant (26 points), Pau Gasol (17 points, 13 rebounds), Ron Artest (15 points) and a strong bench (25). The execution entailed sharp defense by holding Boston to 33.3% shooting, Farmar acquiring floor burns while diving for a loose ball and Lamar Odom managing his first double-digit performance in rebounds (10) despite battling sinusitis.
That mind-set extended into Game 7, where the Lakers needed a team performance to secure the championship. Bryant proved instrumental in the fourth quarter by making eight of nine free throws, grabbing four defensive rebounds and hitting a difficult 17-foot fade-away jumper to give the Lakers a 68-64 lead with 5:22 left in the game. Fisher hit a crucial three-pointer that tied the score, 64-64, with 6:12 remaining. Gasol made a layup to widen the gap to 76-70 at the 1:30 mark. Artest made a 27-foot three-pointer for a 79-73 lead. Vujacic clinched the win with two free throws with 11.7 seconds remaining. And in a category that always determined each outcome of the series, the Lakers outrebounded Boston, 53-40.
"The amount of work we put into that game and how hard we played and the reward we eventually got" made it worth it, Gasol said.
Juxtapose that to the other portion of the Lakers' practice Saturday where they reviewed the several lapses in the loss to Sacramento. It featured the Lakers' frontline in Andrew Bynum (12), Gasol (nine), and Odom getting outscored by Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins (27). It highlighted the Lakers' month-long defensive resurgence suddenly escaping them. And it showcased very little balance with Bryant (38 points) and Shannon Brown (17 points) doing the heavy lifting.
"Just about the animation and the activity level that it takes to play at that level," Jackson said when asked what teachable moments can be used from the Lakers' Game 7 win over Boston. "We were playing at [that level] as opposed to the activity and playing level that we were playing last night."
Use adversity as an opportunity
In hopes to take away something positive from a result that was far from it, Jackson argued following the Lakers' loss to Sacramento that it may prove beneficial in ensuring the Lakers instantly return to establishing good habits. The Lakers didn't exactly respond the right way after a double-digit loss to Milwaukee as they lacked energy in their Christmas Day game against Miami, but the Lakers have proven much more effective in January, as indicated by their signature wins against Oklahoma City, Denver and Utah.
Still, there's no use in predicting the Lakers' pattern because they aren't even sure how they'll respond. With the Lakers trailing by 13 points in the third quarter, they proved their resiliency in grinding out a Game 7 win over the Celtics to win the title. Obviously the stakes are higher when a championship is on the line, but it's impressive nonetheless that the Lakers recovered from a 13-of-49 shooting clip (26.5%) in the first half, Bryant made up a poor shooting night with a gritty effort on the glass and Artest overcame anxiety issues by arranging a last-minute visit with his therapist that proved instrumental in playing with composure.
"Sometimes you have to win ugly games," Bryant said. "You just have to figure a way to get the job done, no matter what, and I think that's something that we've learned."
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