Kobe let his guard down

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

LOS ANGELES — When it was finally over, finally revealing L.A.’s commitment to grit, Kobe Bryant finally let his guard down.

In one of those moments that arrive only when no additional game is to be played, Bryant bared his soul.

For this assassin-like hoopster, it’s as rare as a made shot during Thursday night’s drama-filled Game 7.

Bryant would seal his legacy as a Laker, confirm his status as the greatest of his era and help L.A. repeat as champions in earning the franchise its 16th crown.

Emotionally drained, physically spent, Bryant wasn’t at his best, but was good enough to earn his second straight NBA final MVP award.

“This is the sweetest because it was against them and because it was the hardest one by far,” said Bryant, who has now won five championships, one more than his foil/former teammate Shaquille O’Neal.

Game 7 was short on offence, but it was off the charts on the drama meter, featuring two teams that battled from the opening tap.

Boston and L.A. saved the most compelling drama for the end, which ultimately ended in an 83-79 Lakers win.

In four previous Game 7s against the Celtics, the Lakers lost each time.

Bryant separated himself from his fellow Laker greats by doing something none could accomplish, despite going 6-of-24 from the field and showing no sign of finding any offensive rhythm.

Clearly, the pressure of playing in a Game 7, a first for Bryant, and the way Boston defended Bryant got the best of the Black Mamba.

“I wanted it so bad, and sometimes you want something so bad it slips away from you,” he added.

Undersized following a knee injury to Kendrick Perkins early in Game 6, the Celtics swarmed Bryant, came with help defence all night and played hard on virtually every possession.

Boston led at the break, 40-34, by keeping Bryant to 3-of-14 shooting.

After missing his first three shots in the third quarter, Bryant saw Boston increase its lead to a game-high 13 points.

When the fourth quarter began, Bryant was on the bench.

“He was a little bit too animated,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who won his 11th championship, said.

The Lakers won because they dominated the glass, used their length and size to get to the line and saw Ron Artest produce his career-defining moment when he stepped up in the game’s biggest moment.

“It seemed like one of those games where nothing was going right for us,” Bryant said.

“We felt like we were supposed to win but we just didn’t know how it was going to happen.”

For Bryant, it happened because he got help from the likes of Pau Gasol, Artest and old reliable, Derek Fisher, who also earned his fifth title.

Bryant defended like a demon, hauling down 15 boards, one short of his career high, and by attacking the rim.

“I had to get to the free throw line and I had to rebound the ball,” said Bryant, whose 15 attempts from the charity stripe were two fewer than the Celtics.

“He found himself frustrated out there,” Jackson said.

“But he stayed with it and found a way to help this team win. Most of it was defensively, rebounding, extra effort.”


DISPARITY


The team that won the rebounding edge won each game.

Rasheed Wallace started for Perkins, but Wallace’s wonky back got to him as the game wore on.

In his post-game interview, Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers sounded as though Wallace had played his final game.

The way they competed and the way they refused to back down, Boston could have easily won had Perkins been available to offset the dramatic disparity in rebounding.

In seven games, Bryant averaged 28.6 points and 8.0 rebounds in becoming the fifth player to win consecutive NBA final MVP awards.

Bryant turns 32 this summer.

No player in his era has played more games than Bryant, who has played this season and post-season with a broken index finger and a banged-up knee that likely requires surgery.

Game 7 was one for the ages.

No one is going to remember the missed shots.

The enduring memory is of two historic teams battling and Bryant exposing his human side.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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