By Justin Cherot
The word “best” gets thrown around far too often. If you let the overreacting world tell it, Stephen Strasburg is already the best pitcher in baseball; Drake is the best new rapper (far from true: just wait until you hear J. Cole’s debut album), and I have the best TV in the world in the “under 60 inch category”. I’m guilty of this hyperbole, too. I didn’t get the chance to write it anywhere, but I felt like Kobe Bryant’s Game 5 performance to keep the Lakers afloat was the best I’ve seen him play. Period. He CARRIED the Lakers, at one point scoring 23 straight points. True, his team couldn’t get any stops, and true, nobody else on his team wanted the ball, but offensively he was ridiculously on point.
Then, I thought of something: oh yeah, he’s scored 81 in a game before. The things we forget.
My friend Hakeem sent me this text at 12:06 this morning, about ten to twenty minutes after the game ended:
“one of the greatest games ive ever seen”.
Hakeem isn’t one for great punctuation, but he might be on to something. I know I just spent the first part of this ranting about the unwarranted hyperbole of “best”, but in this case I don’t think it’s hyperbole to place this Game 7 in the conversation of “best ever”. Allow me to present my case…
1) DUH! IT’S GAME 7!!!
No one will question that this game was offensively challenged from jump street, but the main reason was that defensively both teams were so intense. That’s what happens when you have a winner-take-all type of affair. I’ve always argued that, sure, the NCAA Tournament is probably more exciting to the average fan than the NBA Playoffs, but give me the NBA Playoffs any day. Why? While the intensity level is ramped way up in college, you get that same intensity level in the pros… with a higher degree of skill. Plus, the most popular word leading up to the game was “legacy”. “What will Kobe Bryant’s legacy be?” “How will the legacy of the Big 3 be remembered?” When you have one game that can sway MEMORIES, do you really think it’s going to be a 115-112 game? At one point, my girlfriend Shanta said to me, “Look at Pau Gasol! He’s got all those scratches on his arm!” Kevin Garnett made sure that he had to earn every last one of his buckets. This was a grown man’s game!
(More on Pau later.)
2) Winning degree of difficulty
While coming back from a 13 point third quarter deficit isn’t earth-shattering, you have to consider the circumstances. Your two best players are being absolutely shut down. Each possession is going uber-deep into the shot clock, limiting shots at the rim. While you do have home-court advantage, The Staples Center faithful haven’t exactly been a notorious 6th man in the past. In short, when the home team is struggling, it gets pin-drop quiet. And yet, despite all three obstacles, the Lakers wore the championship fitteds in the end. Talk about staring adversity in the face!
Bryant never really got into a rhythm, but he did manage to get to the line 15 times, which definitely speaks to the physical nature of this game. Speaking of physical, Pau “The Spaniard” Gasol (Kobe’s words, not mine) overcame a lot of demons last night. In ’08 against the Celtics, Garnett and Kendrick Perkins roughed him up. At the time he just wasn’t tough enough. Throughout this year’s playoffs, he played well, but there were still times where it looked like if you knocked him off balance once it would throw off his game for the rest of the night. He looked like that during the first half, and I seriously thought the Lakers were done if he kept playing that way.
But he kept battling, jostling for position down low and no longer settling for anything outside of the paint. I know the last minute was absolutely nuts, but I felt like it was Gasol’s tough bucket with 1:30 left (you know, the one where he traveled but I can’t find it on YouTube because the NBA doesn’t want to celebrate a blown call?) was the play that sealed it for the Lakers. You can say a lot of things about Gasol, but you know how they say in the World Cup that one game changes everything? It’s also changed my opinion on Gasol.
3) Unlikely Hero
Man, how close was this to being Rasheed Wallace? The entire season he was merely a shade of his former self. Near the end of the season, Bill Simmons, maybe the biggest Boston Celtic fan on the face of the earth, wrote a scathing 1,600 word column about him. But, his play, along with the Celtics’ bench throughout the postseason was a pillar of strength, and as an emergency starter in the biggest game of the season, I thought he played 36 quality minutes. For the first time in like six years, he wasn’t just camped out behind the three-point line every possession. The Celts definitely missed Perkins, but it threw the Lakers off because they had to actually guard the five position.
Alas, the Celtics lost, and Ron Artest emerged. Before the season started, he put the pressure on himself, saying that if the Lakers didn’t win to blame him, because he was literally the only change made in the off-season. While everyone around him was struggling, he was the only one playing with a shred of effectiveness offensively. We’ll never compare a 7/18 shooting night as “epic”, and he definitely had some “wtf are you doing!?” moments on the floor, but his 20 points, five assists and five steals–along with his tough three with the shot clock dwindling and Paul Pierce draped all over him–won the Lakers the chip.
Three very compelling reasons why we should place this game within the pantheon of greats NBA Finals’ games. I also have a bonus reason.
Let’s look at the 2009 celebration:
Contrast that with the 2010 celebration (note: Being that it’s 10:00 am the day after the game, I couldn’t really find a better video than this. The commentary in the background is very one-sided, but actually somewhat funny. Apparently the Lakers’ have “bad-ass hats”):
Granted, Shanta did bring up a valid point: the Lakers were on the road last year, and a home celebration is always better because it’s in front of your fans. However, the reason I wanted to show both celebrations was because the latter felt more genuine. In 2009, it felt like it was all about Bryant. I remember the end of that game. With outcome well intact, Bryant was STILL jacking. I felt like the hug with Fisher was staged, that everyone running over to placate Bryant was staged, that kids and wife on court was staged.
But, see how much more fulfilling a true, gritty team win is? Outside of Adam Morrison, find me a Laker who wasn’t shedding tears at some point. Crazy as the Ron Artest speech was, tell me THAT wasn’t genuine! True, Bryant ultimately got them to the finish line, but it was the other Lakers who pushed them over. Hence the better collective celebration.
I’m watching the World Cup right now and I’m realizing just how much I’m going to miss basketball this summer. Well, I guess there’s the draft in six days, and I finally have NBATV so I’ll catch some summer league games, but wow… four months until Opening Night.
I guess for now I’ll grab my vuvuzuela…