The Los Angeles Lakers overcame a dreadful shooting performance in the first half and rallied to an 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Kobe Bryant led all players with 23 points and 16 rebounds, but it was teammate Pau Gasol who sparked the comeback that enabled the Lakers to repeat as champions. The Spaniard blocked Paul Pierce and then came down the court to put the Lakers up by six with 1:30 left at Staples Center.
There were still tense moments to come, but Los Angeles never trailed again.
Gasol would finish with 19 points and 18 rebounds as the Lakers won the franchise's 16th NBA title, one shy of Boston's all-time mark.
"I can't say enough about the Spaniard [Gasol]," said Bryant. "That guy's unbelievable, a helluva player, we wouldn't have won it without him."
Pierce led the Celtics with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson is now 11-2 in the NBA finals, winning his fifth in Los Angeles after six in Chicago. It was the first time he'd coached a Game 7 in the finals.
The two most-storied franchises in NBA history have produced many legendary clashes. The finale on Thursday was chock full of effort, but stunning for its volume of turnovers and poor execution.
Poor foul shooting
The Lakers nearly lost their second at home due to poor foul line form, making just nine of their first 17 free throws, while shooting just 26 per cent from the field in the first half.
For their part, Boston allowed Los Angeles 23 second-chance offensive opportunities.
The best shooters on both teams were afflicted: Bryant was just 6-of-24, even after making a couple late buckets, while Boston's Ray Allen hit on just three of 14 attempts.
Bryant was named the NBA Finals MVP for the second time as he was terrific for most of the series. He and friend Derek Fisher now have won five championships.
"This was the hardest one by far," said Bryant. "I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up."
The Celtics were looking to beat Los Angeles in the final for the second time in three years.
"You know, it's the first time all year that you can actually say at the end of the day we were old at the end of the game because we didn't have enough bodies," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought it hurt us."
Fisher made a three-pointer for the Lakers to open the scoring, but Rajan Rondo and Kevin Garnett made strong moves to give Boston the early lead.
Glen Davis came off the bench to make it 21-14 for the visitors.
Bryant was being guarded heavily by Boston early, and when he was able to find space was off target. He shot just one-for-seven in the first.
Boston took a 23-14 lead into the second, but within two minutes Los Angeles had the margin down to four points.
The Lakers were still missing shots, but getting several second chances, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds before Boston even had three.
The Celtics were turning the ball over with regularity, and consecutive layups by Gasol and Ron Artest tied the game at 23-23.
Artest comes through
Even when Bryant put up a desperation shot with a second left on the shot clock, Artest was there to put in a rebound. Cold for much of the series, he would net 20 points in the clincher.
The mercurial player had at least a dozen friends and relatives behind the dais at the post-game press conference.
"I thank coach Jackson for having me, and Kobe and the Lakers for giving me this opportunity," said Artest. "I'm just really, really enjoying this. I just can't wait to go to the club."
Rasheed Wallace, getting more minutes with Kendrick Perkins out with a knee injury, blocked Gasol at one end and banked in a shot at the other for a 35-31 Boston advantage.
The Celtics took a 40-34 lead into the half and with Garnett recharged, the Celtics opened up a game-high 11-point lead when Rondo put in a one-handed shot from the paint.
It got up to 13 but Bryant and Gasol started to find a rhythm, cutting the lead to eight.
Lamar Odom of the Lakers awoke, running up court after a defensive stop to put in a follow-up attempt.
The Celtics took a timeout, and after an almost laughable exchange of turnovers and bad shots between the teams, Pierce hit a three-pointer.
Borderline foul calls
Boston took a 57-53 lead into the fourth but unravelled with a series of fouls, some of them borderline. Allen committed a crucial foul with Bryant attempting a shot beyond the arc, and the Lakers star made all three free throws.
Pierce then fouled Artest, who made his shot and the free throw for a three-point play and 61-61 tie.
Gasol missed two free throws with a chance to put L.A. up but Bryant didn't with 5:56 left, giving the home team the lead for the first time since the second quarter.
After another Boston miss, Bryant hit a jumper for a 68-64 lead.
The Lakers would go ahead for good but not before yet one more crazy sequence.
As cold as the teams had been nearly all night, Wallace, Artest and Allen all hit 3-pointers within a 45-second span.
With the score 81-76 and about 20 seconds left, Rondo hit a desperation three after an Allen miss, making it a two-point game.
Los Angeles sub Sasha Vujacic was inserted into the game due to his free throw prowess, and he didn't disappoint. He hit both of his attempts to all but seal the result, sending the celebrity-heavy crowd at Staples into a frenzy.
Jackson was non-committal when asked if he would attempt a three-peat for the fourth time in his coaching career.
"He knows how bad I want him back," said Bryant. "I've told him. I've been openly blunt about it, how much I want him back.
"Let's go for it again."