Say what you will about Kobe, but nobody wanted it more this season. Kobe led the Lakers to a title without Shaquille O'Neal for the first time in his fifth try without his former Hall of Fame teammate, furthering his position among the All-Time greats Sunday after a 99-86 victory to seal the NBA championship. Kobe combined with Lamar Odom, coincidentally one of the players acquired in the trade that sent Shaq away, to take the heart out of the Orlando Magic, who never challenged after a 16-0 L.A. run in the second quarter. Kobe scored 30 points, had six rebounds and dished out five assists, right on his numbers for the playoffs, and won his first Bill Russell Finals MVP award. Odom had 17 points, including three from three-point range, and pulled down 10 rebounds that were key to L.A.'s 47-36 advantage on the boards. Odom in essence canceled out Rashard Lewis, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. The problem for Orlando is that Lewis was their most prolific contributor Sunday. Dwight Howard was held almost completely in check, scoring only 11 points to go with 10 rebounds and three blocks. The Magic shot just 8-for-27 from behind the arc, while the Lakers were 8-for-16 and made 11 more free throws as well. The game simply wasn't competitive once Trevor Ariza, who scored 11 of his 15 points during a four-minute stretch in the second quarter, heated up after a confrontation with Hedo Turkoglu. The two were jawing near the Orlando bench, and both were hit with technical fouls with 5:43 to go until halftime. The Magic were ahead 40-39 at that point, but Ariza nailed a pair of 26-foot three-pointers, made a layup, a 15-footer and a free throw, and by the end of the half the Lakers had a 10-point lead. Ariza used the series to deepen the Magic's lament over trading him away last season for Mo Evans and Brian Cook. The Lakers got Pau Gasol in another lopsided deal last year, and he continued to pay dividends in the clinching game Sunday, delivering 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. The Lakers haven't lost three in a row since acquiring Gasol, a staggering achievement that underscores the hole the Magic were in, trailing 3 games to 1 and needing to win three straight. Orlando was nonetheless one Courtney Lee shot in Game 2 and one Dwight Howard free throw in Game 4 from a much different series. The Finals, apart from Sunday and Game 1, were far from a victory lap for the Lakers. It's not clear, given how close Orlando came, and the fact the Cavs saved their worst games for last, that the best team won. It is certain that these Lakers are a championship-caliber club, and that coach Phil Jackson should be recognized as the gold standard among NBA bosses. His record of 10 titles, more than anyone not just in the NBA but in the NFL or Major League Baseball as well, will likely stand forever. He was fortunate, indeed, to lead teams with the best players of their time, like Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, but plenty of coaches have failed to make the most of their talent. A few others have taken them to the top of the mountain once or twice, but never again. Jackson has proven again and again that his success, and the success of his teams, is no fluke.
Thanks for reading this year. It's been a fun learning experience and I intend to keep this going. This is a constantly evolving process, so I'm not sure how the blog will look next year, but it will be here. Keep an eye out for draft coverage and analysis of free agent signings and trades in the offseason. It should be interesting, with all sorts of teams looking to dump salary. And, in case you're wondering, my predictions, so solid during the first two rounds of the playoffs, were off the mark in the last two. I took the Cavs in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but wound up one of many who were caught off guard by the Magic, who won in six. I was much closer in the Western Conference Finals, where I had the Lakers winning in 7. They took care of Denver in six. I had the right team in the Finals, but I thought it would be a seven-game series instead of five. How was I supposed to know Dwight Howard would miss two free throws and Jameer Nelson would completely forget Derek Fisher was one of the all-time great clutch three-point shooters?