BOSTON WINS GAME 7! That was the prepared headline. It was written. At the start of the final quarter of the final game of this NBA season, the score was 57-53—one of the lowest in The Finals history—favoring the Celtics. And doesn’t Boston win all low-scoring games? Don’t they triumph in all games via defense? “It was exactly the type of game we wanted,” admitted Doc Rivers.
Boston owned a 13-point lead and won… the first three quarters. The Lakers? In this game where a resale ticket costs over P50,000 ($1,099), LA played their worst game of the playoffs. Maybe, of the season. Kobe Bryant was 1-for-7 after the first quarter, 3-for-14 at halftime; in all, he missed 18 of 24 attempts. The entire LA team? At halftime, they shot 25.6 percent. At game’s end, it was 32.5 percent. Free throws? I’ve never seen them more lousy. Yet, in this off-day for LA which the TV announcer calls “one of the most poorly played games you’ll ever see,” it wasn’t Gilbert Teodoro’s color that won but P. Noy’s.
D-FENSE! D-FENSE! Those shouts reverberated inside the Staples Center. And while the Celtics are best in defense, the Lakers won this contest because of their D. Determination. Led by Kobe who said, “I just wanted it so, so bad.” That’s D: Desire. Maybe, this all-too-consuming Dream by Kobe was the reason why he missed so, so much… from free throws to threes to open jumpers. You can’t blame Mr. Bryant. After 82 games in the regular season and many more in the playoffs, even though he’s Superman, he’s super… but human.
To me, three lessons can be derived from this NBA Finale. First, basketball—like life—is about teamwork. Kobe’s team won not because of him–but because of him with his teammates. Here was a man transformed from being selfish to selfless.
Ron Artest? He was the Game 7 MVP. He guarded Paul Pierce, forcing him to miss 10 of 15 shots. He played 46 of the game’s 48 minutes, stole the Boston ball five times, scored 12 in the second quarter to keep the halftime tally close. “He brought life to the team,” said Phil Jackson. “He brought life to the crowd.”
Pau Gasol was the hero. That offensive rebound (he totaled 18 rebounds, nine offensive) after Kobe missed a three-pointer with 27.9 seconds left had Kobe saying at the end: “I can’t say enough about that Spaniard. That guy is unbelievable and just a hell of a player. We wouldn’t have won it without him.”
Kobe’s realization: Rely on others. Ask for help. Trust your teammates.
Lesson No. 2: Anybody can have an off day. You can’t expect perfection 100 percent of the time. This happens to Kobe, to you, to me, to the world champs, Lakers. What’s essential is to rise above this temporary lapse, this “off day.” The LAL, despite trailing 85 percent of the way, found a way. They never gave up. Never felt deflated nor discouraged. Look at Kobe. Inside his brain entering those final eight minutes, he must have wondered, “How can I mess up this bad?” Yet he persevered, passed instead of shot, rebounded 15 times, and converted—finally!—those free throws.
Lesson No. 3: The game is won in the end. It’s like a sprint. Anybody can take the early lead. But it’s the finish that matters. Championships are won in the final 300 seconds. Like a 400-meter dash. The winner isn’t the one who gallops off the starting line first or leads halfway, it’s the one who leads at the very last meter. That’s what the Lakers did.
“They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, and for us, a defensive group, that’s the toughest part to swallow — that we gave up 30 points,” said Doc Rivers.
The Lakers summoned up all their past triumphs, absorbed all the deafening vibes of the Los Angeles crowd… and sprinted first to the finish. Much like the victory of our new Vice President, right?