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30 May, 2008
Lakers In The FinalsAfter a five-year drought, this was particularly sweet:
Bryant scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers rallied from an early 17-point deficit to beat the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs 100-92 on Thursday night and win the Western Conference finals in five games.Just a short year ago, Kobe Bryant was publicly demanding a trade. Though it ticked off management -- who wisely said he's not going anywhere -- and some fans including me, it wasn't hard to understand why: the team sucked. From the Shaq/Kobe era of three-peat, the new Lakers were reduced to barely making it to the playoffs a couple of times, let alone winning one. Until last night.
It all changed when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak pulled off the coup of acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis four months ago. The turnaround was dramatic, almost miraculous. In spite of Andrew Bynum being sidelined by an injury for the rest of the season, the young team stepped up their game and in the process let Kobe be Kobe, concentrating on making those amazing shots and assists instead of worrying about keeping the team from falling apart. In turn, his stellar performance inspired his teammates to do even better. Kobe and his team, in effect, started feeding off each other.
Last night, their teamwork and speed proved too much for the experienced yet lethargic Spurs. Their top shooters Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were effectively shut out by a solid Lakers defense in the fourth quarter. Their own defense in turn, which was weak to begin with, couldn't match an aggressive Lakers team hungry for their shot at the title.
It's nice to see Kobe smiling again. He's obviously pumped up and proud of his team. He matured a lot this season, from a talented yet self-absorbed overachiever into a true leader and team player. Considering where they were from just a season ago, winning the Western Conference was quite the achievement. Hopefully, the ego boost will serve them well in the finals against what looks to be the Boston Celtics.
Lakers vs Celtics. The old rivalry is back. It's gonna be one hell of a championship series.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
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