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News » Full circle with this ring

Full circle with this ring

Full circle with this ring
ORLANDO, Fla. - Lakers coach Phil Jackson passed Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach Sunday night for the most NBA titles with 10. Celtics legend Bill Russell handed the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy named after him to Lakers star Kobe Bryant. And Joe Buss, son of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, made a point of saying his franchise's 15 titles are now just two shy of the Celtics .

Although it was the Lakers' time to shine, becoming the 2009 champions by dispatching the overmatched Magic in five games, the connection to the Celtics , their bitter rivals, was oddly everywhere. But of all the Celtics references, none stood out more than the motivation the new champs received from the lessons learned from their bitter Finals loss to Boston in 2008.

``So we get back to the hotel [after losing to the Celtics in the Finals last season], it was interesting,'' Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. ``Even though we were really disappointed and angry about what happened, there was almost a shift right at that point to what it is going to take for us to actually do it. We didn't really sit around the hotel that night, we sat in the lobby of our hotel in the lounge, and we just kind of talked.

``At that moment, we were talking about what it is that we're going to have to do to get this done. That's what I remember the most. The plane ride was long, arduous, painful. But I think it's definitely what set this year in motion.''

Talented big men Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were viewed as soft after being pushed around by the Celtics last season and not stepping up to aid Bryant. It was the opposite this time around. Gasol averaged 18.6 points, a team-high 9.2 rebounds, a team-high 1.6 blocks, and shot .600 in the Finals. Odom was third on the team in scoring during the Finals, averaging 13.4 points to go with 7.8 rebounds and he made four 3-pointers off the bench.

``Last year's experience, I think it made us tougher,'' Gasol said. ``It made us grow as a team, and we were all hurt by it. We were very disappointed that we lost to Boston. They showed that they were more ready than we were at that time. But it really made us want it even more than we did last year, and it got us to this point.''

Said Odom: ``It was an experience, and usually experience makes you better at whatever it is, whether it's on or off the court. We set a goal early in training camp and that was to win the NBA championship.''

One thing gnawed at the Lakers about their Finals loss last season: Blowing a 24-point lead at home in Game 4 en route to one of the most haunting setbacks in their illustrious history. The comeback gave the Celtics a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Fisher said when the Lakers had lapses this season, Game 4 was referenced.

``There were certain times, certain experiences, certain games where [the 2008 Finals] came up,'' Fisher said. ``There was one regular-season game in Washington, D.C., against the Wizards where we had a big lead and allowed the Wizards to come back and we almost lost on a Caron Butler 3-pointer, and after the game we talked about the fact that how dare us lose a game we're leading by 24 points on our home court in the Finals and allow a team to come back and beat us, possibly losing the Finals at that point.

``Instead of going 2-2, it's 3-1. How dare us be lackadaisical in a regular-season game and do the same thing that cost us the championship the year before? So it came up in certain situations like that, and it was definitely a very poignant, obvious reminder for a lot of guys what our purpose was here.''

The 2008 Finals was billed as the Celtics' ``Big Three'' of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce vs. Bryant. It didn't turn out to be as advertised.

The Celtics got big performances from James Posey, P.J. Brown, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo en route to their 17th title. As great as Bryant, the 2008 MVP, was, he couldn't win a title by himself. With big performances from Odom, Gasol, Fisher, and Trevor Ariza this time around, Bryant had help en route to his fourth title. Ariza, who was acquired last season, wasn't much of a factor in the 2008 Finals. But after winning the championship Sunday, Bryant described the addition of Fisher, Gasol, and Ariza as ``a bunch of Christmas presents.''

``For us, with a collection of guys that are so young and having gone through what we went through last year and having the goal in mind of trying to get back to this point, to have the attitude of we're going to become a better defensive team, better rebounding team, and then to actually do it and to see it all happen, it feels like I'm dreaming right now,'' Bryant said. ``I can't believe this moment is here.''

Assuming things go well in free agency and health-wise, the Lakers will be even better next season.

Although he won't admit it, the strongly motivated Bryant has his eyes on matching his idol Michael Jordan's six titles. Center Andrew Bynum should be a force next season after recovering from knee surgery. Odom said he is willing to return for a pay cut, which could allow the Lakers to re-sign him and fellow free agent Ariza (keep an eye on this situation). Gasol will continue to be Robin to Bryant's Batman.

But the bull's-eye and the short summer that plagued the Celtics in their failed defense now looms over the Lakers. Los Angeles will be everybody's top homecoming game next season, not LeBron James and the Cavaliers, the Magic, or the Celtics . There has not been a repeat champion since the Lakers (2000-02).

Although the Lakers have a lot of issues to deal with in the offseason in their quest to repeat, now is the time to celebrate a championship the Celtics had a hand in making possible.

``I don't even know if we knew who we were [last season],'' Fisher said. ``Even though we were in the Finals vs. the Celtics , I don't know when we were put in a position where we had to dig deep, find out who you are and what you're made of.

``I don't know if we knew each other that way. From training camp this year, to experience every practice, every bus ride, every plane ride with the same group, I think that really separated us from last season's team to this season's team.''

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: June 16, 2009


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