It was the ugliest game 7 Championship game ever, but it couldn’t have ended in a better way. Low scoring, turn-over plagued, and stagnantly paced, 2010’s NBA Finals Championship Game 7 was hyped as the biggest, baddest rivalry with the potential to be the best championship finale ever. The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers had not only reheated their decades old rivalry, but taken it full hilt winning 3 games apiece. If you lived in California, it was like a highly anticipated state-wide holiday on June 17th: Game 7.
But to truly understand why a game like this was such a perfect ending, you have to travel back two years to 2008. In the 2008 Finals, Boston didn’t just live up to the chants of “BEAT L.A.,” they put a veritable ass-whupping on the Lakers. Though it went six games, the Celtics dominated the Lakers with brutish, physical defense, and a game six clincher that can only be described as L.A. abuse.
Fast forward two years later. Though the Lakers won it all last year, they went through an Orlando team that was premature at best. The Lakers were never fully tested and beat the Magic with relative ease. The talk was on: just how great were the Lakers? Is Kobe Bryant the greatest player? How does he rank next to Michael Jordan?
This year, the Lakers closed out the regular 2010 season looking ragged and disjointed. Their first round match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder made Laker fans nervous, especially after the series was tied at 2 – 2. After the Lakers pulled it out, they faced the Phoenix Suns. The championship swagger was back. Whatever malaise the Lakers were struck with seemed completely flushed from their system. They were clearly the reigning champs.
The Boston – L.A. rematch was better than fiction, more exciting than a movie, and ended– as stated earlier, in the perfect way. Though previous game victories and losses went back and forth, none of it meant anything anymore once there was a game 7. Game 7 was all or nothing. Sure, Boston had to go without Center Kendrick Perkins, but backup center Rasheed Wallace provided more offense and the Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum only played limited, first-half minutes himself.
Throw in every superlative you can on toughness, and you’ll understand this game. Game 7 had little familiarity to the previous games. It was all about defense and physically-aggressive and often times abusive play. The Lakers weren’t tough enough in ’08, but were they really tough enough now? They had always claimed that they were a “different team” this year, but doubt formed when the Celtics won games 2, 4, and 5, taking a 3 – 2 lead in the series, and rose to a boil when the Lakers went down 13 points in the third quarter of Game 7.
Boston’s defense was reminiscent of their 2008 tenacious D, but this year they actually looked tougher. Their physical presence against Pau Gasol left him looking like an emaciated boxer beaten by heavyweights. The only difference this year was that he didn’t fold. Though the Celtics kept Kobe Bryant limited in scoring, Kobe stepped up and showed his greatness by grabbing 15 rebounds and looking for his teammates. Kobe admittedly stated after the game that the desire to win had “got to” him. He said that he wanted it so much it threw him off his game, but that his teammates were there to help. And what a teammate Gasol was. He took an unfathomably amount of hits, bumps, elbows, and body checks in the paint but primally-screamed his shots to fall in. Ron Artest made good on his acquisition and pre-season dare to blame him if the Lakers didn’t win it all by carrying the Lakers in scoring. The venerable veteran Derek Fisher hit big shots. But in the end, it was all about toughness. The Celtics came around the corner like the neighborhood bully looking to steal lunch money from a one-time victim. The Lakers responded by taking everything he gave, leaving him lying on the ground while leaping away in ecstatic joy, gold still firmly in grasp.