It began with Ron Artest telling Phil Jackson to shut his yapper. It ended with Ron Artest completely unable to shut his own yapper.
It began with Kobe Bryant wearing what appeared to be women’s clothing. It ended with him being fitted for a man-sized ring.
In 61 draining days of spring, the Lakers postseason covered a gamut of events and emotions as wildly diverse as the tears that eventually fell from their exhausted eyes, the only constant being the plays that created their second consecutive, and 16th overall, NBA title.
In the end, the 2009-10 Lakers’ playoff legacy will be written not with glitz and glib, but with these plays, not all pretty, not all dramatic, but all of them championship.
One man’s ranking of the plays, in ascending order:
10. Bynum’s Dunk: It merely occurred in the second quarter of the first-round opener against Oklahoma City, and it gave the Lakers a 17-point lead — all forgettable, with one large exception.
This was brittle Andrew Bynum. This was the Lakers’ biggest question mark and most important answer. With the mammoth slam, the Staples Center crowd truly roared for the first time in the postseason, and Bynum truly began delivering, playing all 23 playoff games despite tearing his knee at the end of the first round, averaging 8.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 24 minutes with impressive grit.
9. Kobe’s Shove: It’s hard to believe that the Lakers actually faced a pivotal Game 5 in that first round against the Thunder. It is not hard to believe that Bryant set the tone by agreeing to guard hot Russell Westbrook, then knocking him to the floor on the game’s first out-of-bounds play.
I can still see Westbrook’s dazed eyes, which were reflected in his teammates, who did not make a field goal until midway through the first quarter, trailing, 10-0, before they could breathe, eventually losing by 24.
8. Fish’s Three: Remember how spurned Utah Jazz fans directed a derisive and tasteless chant at Derek Fisher during the Lakers’ first game in Salt Lake City this postseason? Remember how Fisher reacted?
He hit the three-pointer with 28 seconds remaining that gave the Lakers a Game 3 lead they didn’t lose in a 111-110 victory.
7. Artest’s Takedown: The Finals weren’t even 30 seconds old when Ron Artest locked arms with Paul Pierce and hauled his Celtics counterpart to the floor.
The Lakers were not tough enough to beat Boston two years ago. Artest quickly showed that they were tough enough now.
6. Fish’s Streak: It wasn’t quite Tyus Edney, but it was close, Fisher dribbling the length of the court in Game 3 in Boston to score on a layup while being mauled by three Celtics.
The three-point play with 48 seconds remaining gave the Lakers a seven-point lead in a 91-84 victory. More than that, it gave them the confidence they could close without Bryant, a feeling that came in handy about a week later.
5. Farmar’s Dive: Of all the shades of attitude that the enigmatic Lakers had shown during the season, desperation was not one of them.
Until they were one loss from giving up their NBA crown. Until Game 6 in the Finals. Until Jordan Farmar went to the floor and beat the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo to a loose ball in the second quarter and tossed it to Bryant for what eventually became two free throws in a blowout.
4. Kobe’s Turnaround: How bad did Bryant want to win his fifth championship ring? He would never actually say, but everyone finally realized it when he took over the clinching Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns.
Bryant scored nine points in the final two minutes, capped by a seemingly impossible turnaround jumper with Grant Hill draped across him like an antique tablecloth. The shot with 35 seconds remaining gave the Lakers a seven-point lead and ultimately a series victory.
3. Artest’s Three: Who would have thought that a guy who made less than one-third of his three-point attempts in the postseason would sink one with 1:01 left in Game 7 of the Finals to give the Lakers a six-point lead over the Celtics and essentially secure an 83-79 win?
Who would have thought that Bryant would have had the assist?
“He never passes me the ball and he passed me the ball,” Artest said of Bryant in one of greatest postgame news conferences in Finals history.
2. Gasol’s Put-Back: If Pau Gasol doesn’t score following up Bryant’s clanked jumper with one-half second remaining, the breathless Lakers lose Game 6 in Oklahoma City, and who knows what happens then?
No offense to the admirable Celtics, but of the four Lakers opponents this postseason, Oklahoma City was the scariest, and it took a hustling play from a bedraggled Gasol to squelch that fear.
1. Artest’s Bank: One moment, the Staples Center crowd is begging Artest to not shoot a horrible three-point attempt — “No! No! No!”
The next moment, they are roaring their love when he banks in a follow-up shot at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 103-101 victory in the pivotal Game 5 against Phoenix — “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
And thus did the most important basket of the 2010 championship postseason occur as a result of a Kobe Bryant airball.
Crazy like a champion.
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