Bryant Leads Fourth Quarter Rally As Lakers Knock Off Celtics, 83-79

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Kobe Bryant and the Lakers looked half- asleep at times during their most important game of the season, but in the end it was their suffocating defense that propelled them to a 83-79 Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics to capture their 16th NBA championship and second in a row.

Bryant captured his fifth title despite going 6-of-24 from the field for just 23 points, as the Lakers used their length to win the rebounding battle by a sizeable 53-40 margin. He also added 15 rebounds, while Pau Gasol provided a huge presence inside with 19 points and 18 boards. Ron Artest added 20 points in the win.

"This is the sweetest (of the five)," Bryant said as he accepted the Bill Russell Award as Finals MVP. "We understood how badly the city wanted it. This one is by far the sweetest because it was against (Boston) and it was the hardest, by far."

Boston held the lead for a majority of the game, but Los Angeles outscored the Celtics, 30-22, in a decisive fourth quarter, including 10 points from Bryant.

"I try not to (get caught in the hype of a Game 7). Tonight, it got the best of me," Bryant said. "I wanted it so bad. Sometimes when you want something so bad, it slips away from you. I can't say enough about (Gasol). We wouldn't have won it without him."

Historically, the Celtics had dominated the Lakers in the NBA Finals coming into this matchup, winning nine of the previous 11 series, including 4-of-4 Game 7s. Los Angeles, though, exacted some revenge for its 2008 loss to Boston and handed head coach Phil Jackson his 11th championship -- extending a record.

Paul Pierce led a balanced Boston attack with 18 points, but the Celtics didn't have enough firepower despite a heroic defensive effort for the first three quarters. Pierce also added 10 rebounds, although the C's clearly missed their center in Kendrick Perkins, who sat out the game after spraining his knee in Game 6. Rasheed Wallace, who started in his place, finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.

Kevin Garnett added 17 points, while Ray Allen struggled with only 13 on 3-of- 14 shooting, as Boston failed in its attempt to win its second title in three years.

Gasol's basket on the opening possession of the fourth quarter brought the Lakers to within 57-55, but both teams had some ugly play over the next few minutes.

Neither team scored for over 2 1/2 minutes, until Garnett's short bank shot put the Celtics back up by four with nine minutes to go.

The Lakers, who trailed for all of the third and the first four-plus minutes of the fourth, finally drew even with Boston on Artest's acrobatic three-point play in the lane, making it a 61-61 game with 7:28 to play.

After Derek Fisher kept the game tied with a rainbow three-pointer, Bryant gave LA its first lead of the second half with a pair of free throws for a 66-64 advantage with 5:56 showing on the clock.

Following an Allen miss on the other end, Bryant rose up just inside the arc and drilled a jumper for a four-point Lakers lead. Boston settled for another deep shot on its next possession -- a Pierce miss from three -- and Gasol extended the LA lead to six, 70-64, on a pair from the line with 4:38 to go.

The Celtics managed to stay in it, climbing back to within three on a Garnett dunk with 3:21 left, but a Gasol layup with 1:30 left seemed to give the Lakers an insurmountable edge at 76-70.

The dormant offenses finally got going in the final moments, as Wallace and Allen drained threes around an Artest triple to pull within 79-76 with 51.3 ticks remaining.

Bryant tried to continue the three-point shooting contest, but missed; however, Gasol was there to grab the rebound, dish to Bryant in the lane, and Bryant drilled two free throws after a foul for a five-point advantage with 25.7 seconds to play.

Rondo kept it interesting with a three-pointer in the corner off a broken play with 16.2 seconds left, making it a two-point game. The Lakers then chose to substitute little-used Sasha Vujacic in for Artest, and Vujacic was fouled with 11.7 seconds left.

Vujacic came up big, sinking both free throw attempts for a four-point lead, and Rondo's missed three-point attempt in the final seconds sealed Boston's fate.

The story in the early moments was Boston's shooting prowess versus Los Angeles' rebounding ability. Without Perkins manning the middle, the Lakers were able to outrebound the Celtics, 10-3, in the first few minutes, but shot a dismal 3-of-15 from the field.

Meanwhile, the Celtics made five of their first six shots, including two baskets apiece from starting center Wallace and Rajon Rondo, en route to a 10-7 edge after 4 1/2 minutes of play.

While Los Angeles continued to struggle from the field, the Celtics slowly increased their lead with help from Glen Davis. Davis added six points in the opening period to help the visitors take a 23-14 advantage to the second quarter.

Bryant was a non-factor for the hosts to start, going 1-of-7 from the field for three total points.

LA, though, got back into the game quickly in the second quarter, beginning the frame on a 11-0 burst to move in front. Artest's layup gave the Lakers a 25-23 advantage with 7 1/2 minutes until halftime.

The Celtics, who missed their first seven shots of the second quarter, finally cracked the scoreboard with a Rondo layup with 7:14 to go, and Garnett put Boston back ahead, 27-25, with a layup just past the midway point.

The Lakers continued to hang around due to their rebounding prowess, and an Artest three with just under four minutes left drew the hosts even, 29-29.

Boston, as they did in the first quarter, finished strong, scoring nine of the next 11 points. Pierce had five, including a three-pointer from the corner with 1:42 left to give the Celtics a seven-point advantage, 38-31.

Tempers got a bit testy shortly thereafter, with Artest and Pierce meeting under the basket after a personal foul on Pierce. Double technicals were issued with 1:22 to go, and Artest made both of his shots from the line to bring the Lakers to within five.

LA didn't get closer than four in the final moments, and Pierce's two free throws in the final minute pushed the Boston lead to six at halftime.

The Celtics, armed with their 40-34 halftime lead, picked up right where they left off to start the third quarter.

Boston stormed out in the second half with seven of the first nine points, forcing the Lakers to take a timeout after Rondo's six-foot jumper provided a 47-36 advantage a little more than two minutes in.

The Celtics lead ballooned to as high as 13 before the Lakers surged back. Los Angeles went on a 9-2 burst to climb back to within six, as a Lamar Odom putback dunk made it a 51-45 game with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the quarter.

Pierce stemmed the run with a three-pointer, but LA hung around, as a pair of Gasol free throws pulled the hosts to within 56-51 with 2:37 left.

Another Odom putback shot made it a four-point game with a minute to go, and Artest missed a three that would have trimmed the deficit to one. The margin remained at four, 57-53, in favor of Boston heading to the fourth.

Boston had been 7-0 overall in NBA Finals Game 7s...The Lakers are now one championship behind the Celtics' all-time record of 17...Jackson is 6-3 all time in Game 7s and 5-0 at home. His teams are also an impeccable 48-0 when winning Game 1 of a series...The Lakers became the seventh team out of 41 to climb out of a 2-3 Finals deficit. The last was Houston, which beat New York in 1994...Bryant is now tied with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper, Jim Pollard and George Mikan with five titles as a Laker...The Celtics went 12-2 in the postseason when holding their opponent under 90, with both losses coming in the final two games...LA is 14-1 all time at home in Game 7s, including 10 straight dating back to 1969...Fisher is now tied with Shaquille O'Neal for first among active players with 32 series wins. Bryant has 31...LA finished just 32.5 percent shooting from the floor, while Boston went 40.8 percent...The Lakers are the first repeat champs since they did it with Bryant and O'Neal from 2000-02.

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