In 2008, Kobe Braynt and the Los Angeles Lakers were back in contention to regain their championship crown, for the first time since Shaquille O’neal departed the City of Angels. Bryant had not only been the face of the franchise, but recognized as one of, if not the best player in the NBA, since “The Big Diesel” was traded.
2008 NBA Finals: The Backstory
The problem was, the Lakers organization did not surround Kobe with sufficient talent around him, until general manager Mitch Kupchak at the time, struck a big deal for Grizzlies big man Pau Gasol in the midst of the 2007-2008 season.
Kobe and company embraced Gasol with open arms, while coach Phil Jackson incorporated Pau to the infamous triangle offense. The Big Spaniard was proven to be the perfect fit in his system.
As soon as the deal was done, the Lakers improved exponentially overnight. They went from an early first-round exit to a true championship contender. That same season, the Lakers made it all the way to the NBA Finals and faced the arch-rival Boston Celtics.
Boston at the time had also improved greatly with their newly acquired Big 3 in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
Despite the series going six games, the Celtics were in seemingly full control throughout. Their great play/physicality was proven to be too much for Gasol and the other Lakers players to handle over the course of each game. Thus, the Lakers got blown out in Game 6, leaving Bryant and company with a bitter taste in their mouths as they exited the TD Garden with the confetti flying everywhere.
The pressure for Bryant heading into 2008-2009 was immense, as he was still not able to quite get over the hump without former teammate Shaquille O’Neal by his side. The Lakers improved greatly that season and were able to pass the Western Conference playoff teams once again.
In the 2009 finals, they matched up against the Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, with an array of shooters surrounding him. The Lakers in company were extremely focused however and took the Magic out in a gentleman’s sweep.
Revenge at Its Finest
Even though Bryant finally captured that elusive title he so desperately wanted without Shaq, the bitterness of losing to Boston the year before still crept in his mind. What he really wanted was a rematch with LA’s long-time rivals and that’s exactly what happened in 2010.
The Lakers and Celtics both handled their respective conferences in the postseason and matched up with one another on the big stage for the second time in two years. This time around, the Lakers got a little more physical with the addition of Ron Artest and the series was a lot more competitive than it was last time around.
The Lakers came out strong in Game 1 on their home court and drew first blood with a 1-0 lead. In Game 2 however, Celtics guard, Ray Allen, went bananas from behind the arc to set a new finals record at the time of eight made triples.
The series then shifted to Boston Massachusetts for the next three contests where the Celtics fan base was rocking. Game 3 went down to the wire, but starting point guard Derek Fisher for the Lakers came up huge to seal the win and retain home-court advantage.
In Games 4 and 5 however, Boston’s bench came up big to take a commanding 3-2 lead in the series heading back to Staples Center for a potential closeout opportunity in Game 6. The Lakers however came out guns blazing in Game 6 where they blew out Boston to tie the series at three games a piece.
The stage was set for a win or take-all Game 7, which was proven to be one of the greatest NBA finals games of all time. So much was at stake for both teams, including legacies on the line for all-time greats like Kobe Bryant, and Boston’s Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
- A look back at the 2001 NBA Finals
It was a classic low-scoring dog fight throughout, where both teams struggled to score from the field. The physicality, animosity, and hussle was at an all-time high. Bryant at the time struggled with his shot as well but looked to help his team in other ways with 15 big rebounds.
The biggest moment of the game came with a minute left in the 4th quarter where Bryant jumped in mid-air and passed the ball to Artest who fired up a three-pointer and connected to take a six-point lead.
Sasha Vujacic was also thrown into the game by Phil Jackson who came up with two clutch free throws to give the Lakers more breathing room.
Ultimately, the Lakers survived and got their revenge from their arch-rival Celtics with a 83-79 victory. The Lakers became back-to-back champions and Bryant captured his fifth ring in an all-time classic game. Yep, 2008 NBA Finals might just be the GOAT after all…
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